Evans is born in New Jersey. While at Southeastern Louisiana University
Evans works with Mundell Lowe and others. After army service, 1951-54,
Evans studies at the Mannes School of Music in New York, 1955-56.
He works with Jerry Wald, George Russell and others and makes his
first recording in 1956.
His early death from a stomach ulcer is brought on because of a
lifelong narcotic struggle, heroin addiction and a later cocaine
Evans joins the
Miles Davis quintet and plays
a crucial role in Davis's use of modal jazz.
Evans returns to
playing with his trio, the format he is most happy with. With Scott
La Faro (bass) and Paul Motion (drums), Evans records several highly
rated albums until La Faro's death in a car accident in 1961. This
body of work is one of the highpoints in the piano jazz canon.
Evans's early musical language was developed in a Bud
Powell enthused post-bop climate; he also drew upon Lennie Tristano
and Horace Silver. But he very quickly
made his own way, developing a more lyrical,
impressionistic approach to piano playing, founded on
a technical ability in many ways never encompassed by his bop brethren
and, more importantly, the imagination not to fall back on it too
often. Never flamboyant, his playing was genuinely two-handed in
structure, with a gentle tone, skilful pedal work and an ability
to emphasise individual inner lines within a chord: the
pianists' pianist. He possessed a harmonic subtlety distinctly
his own, yet his improvised lines were
melodically rather than harmonically inspired, and always
gave a sense of breaking free from the underlying chord, which is
why he showed no interest in the blues; he rarely fell back upon
formulaic runs or annoying clichés, and his sense of delineating
a singing, swinging phrase, his 'poise', were impeccable.
In a real sense he changed the conception of piano in jazz,
adding subtleties, shading and a pianistic language hitherto never
imagined. Hancock, Jarrett and Corea,
complete pianists all, drew on that legacy and to a certain extent
have devalued his historic currency.
It is often
claimed that Evans' playing tended to lack drive and swing, which
is to misunderstand what he was about: bass and drums were reactive,
even active, partners in the improvisational process and did not
provide the same relentless rhythmic cushion employed by the likes
of Oscar Peterson. Bassists like
Scott La Faro and, later, Gary Peacock and Eddie Gomez provided
contrapuntal textures and melodic invention underneath the piano
lines; and Evans swings route one when matched with the big sound
of Philly Joe Jones (Everybody Digs Bill Evans, 1958) or
an (unusually) active Connie Kay (Know What I Mean?, 1961).
his style had matured, Evans showed little interest in any further
jazz development, the familiar tale of many jazz pianists.