This year is the 35th anniversary of jazz pianist Bill Evans‘s death. Evans was a pioneering player whose harmonic conceptions, virtuosity, delicate rhythm, and sing-song tone advanced jazz piano beyond bebop styling and into the realm of cool. For it was Evans who brought an electric charge to Miles Davis’s “The Birth of Cool” in the 1960s and gave birth to the entire West Coast jazz scene. Evans is underrated as a pianist and influence; he’s often been derided by ultra-jazz purists as an essentially classical pianist. Yes, Evans was influenced by Claude Debussy, and had an astonishing erudition when it came to the classical music repertoire. But still, his was a formidable jazz intelligence: specifically, he embodied in his playing the disparate piano styles of Nat King Cole (little known for his own innovations against stride on the left-hand side of the keyboard pre-bebop) and hard bop pianist Bud Powell.
As Doug Ramsey, blogger at Rifftides writes in the Wall Street Journal, “His conception of the jazz trio became the model for balancing the good of the group with individual freedom in the modern rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. And musicians unborn when Evans was at his peak are inspired by his harmonic concepts, the way he touched the keyboard, the flow of his rhythm as he phrased his solos.” And for today’s musicians who rely heavily on virtuosity and little on melody Evans’s example remains instructive. So take a moment to dig his best tunes, but especially “Sunday at the Village Vanguard.”