Some essential Bill Evans jazz piano recordings

Yesterday I wrote one of my most-shared blog posts, about the jazz pianist Bill Evans, blissfully unaware that I was posting it just one day before his birthday! Yes, Mr. Evans would have celebrated his birthday today, had he not died so tragically young. He was born on August 16, 1929 and only lived to the age of 51, due to drug problems.

There are 2 types of jazz pianists today: those who have been influenced by Evans and those who have intentionally tried to avoid his outright influence. That’s how big a shadow he has cast. If you listen to Keith Jarrett, you’re hearing some Bill Evans. If you hear anyone play rootless left-hand chord voicings (which is basically every jazz pianist alive), you’re hearing some Bill Evans. His influence is so pervasive that if you don’t want to be influenced by him, you have to work hard to avoid him, perhaps by focusing on Ellington or James P. Johnson. (And running to Thelonious Monk won’t help you escape Evans either: he incorporated Monk’s technique of rhythmic displacement into his own playing!)

In celebration of Bill Evans, I thought I’d put together a list of some favorite recordings and interviews for you to enjoy:

“Solar” (this is his famous trio w/ bassist Scott LaFaro, live at The Village Vanguard) It’s amazing how Evans captures the crackling energy of bebop, without sounding anything like Bud Powell!

“Young and Foolish” from his series of duets with vocalist Tony Bennett. (Not an obvious choice of duet partners, the idea apparently came from singer Annie Ross.)

“Sweet Dulcinea Blue” (from the album “Quintessence”) This was one of the Bill Evans albums I had as a teenager. One of his late recordings, I love it because all the musicians (Evans, Harold Land, Kenny Burrell, Ray Brown, and Philly Joe Jones) had been around for decades and had nothing to “prove” anymore. They’re playing relaxed, sensitive music together, and clearly enjoying themselves.

The Creative Process and Self-Teaching is simply astonishing. This interview/demonstration, conducted by Evans’ older brother Harry, is very close to having a private lesson with the master himself.

I hope you enjoy these recordings (and video) as much as I do. Good luck with your jazz piano playing!

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