Here’s a clip of jazz egghead and piano innovator Bill Evans with his 1965 trio performing what was to become a jazz standard – “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The piece was originally featured in the 1938 Disney version of the children’s folk tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and would be covered by many other jazz artists including the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Miles Davis.
There’s something about Bill Evans as a pianist which appeals to me even though it shouldn’t. His approach sounds very academic at times, and on the surface he’s more the technician than the emotive interpreter. This would normally turn me right off. But, what Evans had was a strong sense of musical history and development of form backing him up, and his passion springs out of it when you stop and listen. There’s an awful lot of impressionism in his playing, very influenced by another favourite of mine, Claude Debussy. As such, there’s a lot to admire, and plenty to love too, about his playing; the lightness of touch, the subtlety, and his amazing sense of interplay with his rhythm section. This piece shows his ability to swing, but another piece of his, “Blue and Green” could be an impressionist piece just as easily as it is a part of the jazz idiom. In this respect, Evans had tremendous range as a musician.
Evans’ talent made him a sought after sideman from the 50s onwards. His work can be heard on records by Charles Mingus, Art Farmer, and later in his significant contributions to many albums by Miles Davis including the 1959 masterpiece Kind of Blue. A popular period for Evans was his recordings on the Riverside label, on which he worked with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. This was arguably his definitive partnership as the leader of a trio. With LaFaro and Motian, Evans recorded the sublime Portrait in Jazz, which included the cut “Someday My Prince Will Come”, along with a version of “Blue n Green” which had appeared on Kind of Blue. The trio also recorded the seminal Sunday at the Village Vanguard, a high point in Evans’ career, and for jazz in general. At the height of the trio’s popularity in 1961, LaFaro was killed in a car accident.
Evans spent the remainder of the decade and the one to follow working with a variety of collaborators, including (oddly, some would say) Tony Bennett in 1975 on their Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album. On paper it was an odd pairing, given that Evans is noted to be at the more studied and cerebral end of the jazz spectrum, while Bennett occupies a more instinctive and feel-oriented space. Yet, the album works and stands as a unique statement. Evans also recorded a number of solo pieces from the 60s onward, and maintained versions of his trio which included long-term bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummers Phily Joe Jones and Jack DeJohnette.
A long term drug user, Evans died in 1980 due to complications arising from his habit. Yet his work with other artists and through his own albums as leader helped to draw out the range of jazz, delving as it did into the world of classical impressionism and in world music.
For more music, visit the Bill Evans MySpace page.