When Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue was released in 1959, his listeners were introduced to a young, recently established pianist whose identity at the keyboard was in its own way as individual as Thelonious Monk’s. Bill Evan’s pianism—his dense, impressionistic voicings, his dreamy, introspective moodiness, his singing lyricism—appeared fresh and original. Despite its apparent uniqueness, Evan’s style rooted in the work of Lennie Tristano, Bud Powell, and Horace Silver, as suggested by Evan’s early recordings. The refined harmonic language of George Shearing also contributed to Evans’s stylistic heritage.
Born in 1929, Evans was from Plainfield, New Jersey. As a teenager, he listened to swing and bop, and he occasionally played piano in local bands. Following high school, Evans attended Southeastern Louisiana University with a scholarship for classical piano—an interesting choice of school for a future jazz musician from the Northeast. After Southeastern Louisiana, Evans was drafted, served in the army, then moved to New York in 1956. He attended the Mannes College of Music for a semester and recorded his own albums New Jazz Conceptions (1956) and Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1958).
Evans joined Miles Davies’s sextet in 1958, performing on Davis’s Jazz at the Plaza and the profoundly influential Kind of Blue. As with so many other sidemen, Evans found that his stint with Davis incisively enhanced his visibility and reputation; he was to remain at the forefront of jazz piano for the remainder of his career.
Drastically redefining postbop piano, Evans was praised for the poetic beauty of his playing, which was enhanced by his sensitivity to...