Mike Harris is one of several Rifftides readers who sent reminders that this is Bill Evans’ 85th birthday. Over a decade in the 1960s and ‘70s, Mr. Harris surreptitiously recorded the pianist at the Village Vanguard in New York. His recordings make up the eight-volume box set Bill Evans: The Secret Sessions. In a note, he suggested, “—perhaps worth a mention?”
This anniversary of the most influential jazz pianist of the second half of the twentieth century is worth more than a mention. From my notes for The Secret Sessions:
After young Bill Evans (1929-1980) got out of the Army in 1954, he became an indispensible sideman on the New York jazz scene. He recorded his first trio album late in 1956 and little more than a year later had begun to enhance his reputation through brilliant work with Miles Davis. Acting on insights gained from the music of Debussy and other impressionist composers, he enriched his chords beyond those of any other jazz pianist. Comparisons that come to mind are harmonies that Bil Evans and Robert Farnon wrote for large orchestras and with some of the mysterious voicings of Duke Ellington. Even in his earliest work he stretched and displaced rhythm and melody and hinted at modes and scales as the basis for improvisation.
With the 1958 sextet that also included saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, bassist Paul Chambers, and initially, drummer Philly Joe Jones (replaced before very long by Jimmy Cobb), Evans had enormous influence in determining the course that mainstream jazz follows to this day. Although in his own groups he was to remain within the song form all of his life, at this time Evans clearly accelerated Davis’s change from a repertoire of popular songs and jazz standards to pieces with fewer chord changes and greater demands on the taste, judgment and imagination of the soloist.
That was “Flamenco Sketches.” For an appearance at Umbria Jazz in Italy in 1978, Evans reunited with Philly Joe Jones, the drummer with whom he had formed a strong partnership in the Davis sextet 20 years earlier. The bassist was Marc Johnson, a regular member of Evans’ last trio. The piece is Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks,” a staple of Evans’ latterday repertoire.
For Bill Evans in a variety of settings, go to this YouTube page and begin browsing through dozens of audio tracks and videos.