Bill Evans: Harmonic Innovator in Jazz Piano

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2015-12

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Abstract

Bill Evans was the most influential post-bop jazz pianist of the twentieth century. Evans advanced harmonic jazz playing with a modality and challenging intervallic relationships which can be attributed to the combination of his training as a “classical” pianist and bebop vocabulary from his primary bebop influence, Bud Powell. Evans was specifically influenced by his study of the French composers Ravel and Debussy, as well as music theorist Lenny Tristano. Western Classical training mixed with bop vocabulary were a key synthesis which yielded a harmonic language for generations to come.
This study focuses on Evans’s harmonic influence on jazz, looking mostly on his work from 1958-1962. It was during this time period that collaboration with bassist Scott LaFaro sparked some of Evans’ most far-reaching and influential recordings. Those recordings are New Jazz Conceptions, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Portrait in Jazz, The 1960 Birdland Sessions, Explorations, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Waltz for Debbie, and Evans’s work on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. It was during this period that, with Scott LaFaro’s unique approach, Evans redefined the role of the piano in the modern jazz piano trio. The way in which Evans’ played in the early 1960s is still modern performance practice today. A study of interviews, live performance reviews, and first-hand recollections from the players and studio producers will highlight the impact Evans had on harmony specific to the jazz piano. Analysis of Evans’ solo piano playing on his composition “Peace Piece” from Everybody Digs Bill Evans, “Blue in Green” from Portrait in Jazz, “Nardis” from Explorations and “Autumn Leaves” from The 1960 Birdland Sessions will be used to provide descriptive examples of Evan’s harmonic contributions.

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Keywords

Jazz piano, Piano, Harmony, Bill Evans

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