Remembering Bill Evans on September 15

Richie Beirach called me today and after our friendly banter, told me that in Germany it was September 15th. “Do you know that 40 years ago today, Bill Evans passed?” “No”, I said with a small amount of shame. “Well, you should write something about it in your blog”, he told me.

We discussed it for a minute and he reminded me that we’ve created two pieces featuring Bill. One was the eBook talking about the Nardis intros Bill played at the very end of his life. The other piece is one of the chapters in our eBook The Lineage of Modern Jazz Piano. So I thought, why not create a compilation of both these pieces in commemoration of this day. Once in a while I give Richie credit for a good idea.

These pieces on Bill are Richie’s observations and expert analysis. After all, he knew Bill and had Bill’s respect.

I never met Bill or heard him play live. My history with him was through listening, analyzing, and integrating his harmonic approach into my playing as a means for me to learn to play better jazz.

Bill Evans’ recordings monopolized my college record collection. From his Vanguard recordings to Portrait in Jazz, to the Tony Bennet sessions and Affinity to Conversations with Myself and many others, I was determined to understand what this man was doing with the piano.

I bought John Mehegan’s book and memorized Bill’s performance of Peri’s Scope as transcribed withinin the book. Oscar Peterson’s great solo on Joy Spring was only a few pages away, but I was a Bill Evans guy after all. I remember taping together that long trail of 18 transcribed pages and challenging myself to play it through without pause. To this day, I can still play much of that solo.

Contemporary piano styles

I would sit for hours at the piano transcribing Bill’s voicings and sketching out the changes as best I could identify them. I created lead sheets of his tunes and added them to my fake book collection. One thing I learned was that there was so much more to the standard tunes that I and my friends had been slavishly following within the Real Book.

I also bought every one of the Bill Evans songbooks. I remember being determined to play through the transcriptions and eventually made my way through the forest of changes on Two Lonely People. I would occasionally treat myself to a break with Bill’s very simple and beautiful tune, Waltz for Helene.

Bill Evans 3

Creating these pieces with Richie on Bill Evans has brought back all these musical memories and 40 years later it has provided me with an advanced degree in Bill Evans. For that education, I am eternally grateful to Richie.

So… drop your email into the form below and I’ll send you the eBook, Bill Evans Remembered.

Bill Evans Remembered Cover 2

4 Responses

  1. I have also collected many Bill Evans recordings. The first was Spring Leaves, which features Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. I haven’t done much transcription, but I have used John Mehegan’s books for many years in my piano practices, to create charts for guitar and solos for violin. I hope to do some more work on developing my solo and arranging style, and I am sure that, at some point, Bill Evans will be a part of it. Thanks for the tip on the Bill Evans transcription books. Right now, I am working through the Baker Cycles for guitar, trumpet and clarinet. Concurrently, I am working on practice books for trumpet and guitar, which will blend charts from various sources: Mehegan, Aebersold, the Real Book, etc. In these practice books, I will explore the application of scales and patterns from Liebman, Bergonzi, Ricker (and other sources) to the charts. After the composition phase, I am going to work on my improvisation, by recording tracks and playing over them, with various instruments. Hopefully, this eventually gets me to a place where I can start arranging and performing.

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