Among pianists, Evans, who died 30 years ago Wednesday at age 51, is as immediately identifiable as Tatum, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson and Bud Powell. In artistry and influence, he is their inheritor and successor. With the exception of those who specialize in stride or boogie woogie, virtually all jazz pianists who developed from the early 1960s on learned from Evans and, if they could, adapted aspects of his playing.
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As a bonus for Rifftides readers, here’s an account from Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond of the night Evans asked Desmond to sit in.
(Desmond) and I went one evening to a club called Reno Sweeney to hear Bill Evans, who, it could be argued, was the most influential and respected jazz pianist since Bud Powell. Evans was appearing with his trio opposite Blossom Dearie. During a break, he joined us at our table to chat and said he would love it if Paul sat in. Desmond declined. Bill tried to persuade him. I offered to take a cab uptown and bring back his horn. “No, not tonight, thanks,” Paul said. “Gee,” Bill said, almost pleadingly, “Lee sat in last night.” The news about Lee Konitz, whom Paul admired, did not change his mind.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve imagined the music those two would have made together.