Evans, Bill

Evans, Bill, 1929-80, American jazz pianist and composer, b. Plainfield, N.J., as William John Evans, Southeastern Louisiana Univ. (B.Mus., 1950). Evans began playing piano when he was very young, and was working professionally in his teen years around his hometown; he also played flute. After graduating from college, he moved to New York and then to Chicago, Il., where he worked in local bands and small groups. He was drafted into the Army (1951-54), serving in the Army band at Fort Sheridan. On his discharge, he returned to New York to pursue postgraduate studies at the Mannes School of Music, and began playing with Jerry Wald’s band, making his first recordings with that group. Composer George Russell, who was experimenting with modal composition, admired his playing and hired Evans for recording and performing his compositions, leading to Evans being signed to Riverside Records as a solo artist. Evans joined Miles Davis’s group in April 1958, composing for and performing on Davis’s most famous recording, Kind of Blue (1959). Evans became famous for his piano trio recordings, with bass and drums, from the late ‘50s through the ‘60s. His cool, cerebral playing and harmonically complex compositions were highly influential; several became favorites, including “Waltz for Debby,” as well as his reworking of older jazz standards, including “Some Other Time.” Evans began using heroin in the ‘60s, and his habit ebbed and flowed over the following years; eventually he kicked the habit, but then became a heavy user of cocaine. He continued to record and tour until his death.

See the biographies by P. Pettinger (1999), K. Shadwick (2002); memoirs by L. Verchomin (2010), J. LaBarbera and C. Levin (2021).

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