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One of the biggest questions that aspiring jazz pianists ask me is, “What do I do with my left hand?” Once you get a sense of what’s possible for the left hand, you can then decide which technique to use on each tune you play. A lot of this will depend on your own approach to each song and also on the style of the musicians you’re playing with as well as the particular playing situation you’re in.
To give you a good sense of this, I’ve arranged the great jazz classic “Oh, Lady Be Good” using the 5 most popular left-hand styles in jazz piano. Learn each one thoroughly and analyze how the particular technique relates to the underlying chords.
Then choose the one or two techniques you like best and use them on your favorite jazz standards.
The first part shows a “stride piano” technique typical of early jazz and the swing era of the 1930s and early 40s. The right hand is reminiscent of Count Basie’s great 1936 recording of the tune.
Second Part: a walking bass line.
Now let’s learn a walking bass line. This technique can be used in many types of jazz, from swing to post-bop styles. You can walk bass lines when playing solo piano, or if you’re accompanying a vocalist or instrumentalist, and no bass player is present. I’ve added a few chord substitutions that are commonly played during the middle section, or “bridge.”
Part 3: a melodic bass line
My piano teacher Billy Taylor told me that when he was playing in the early 1940s, bass players were developing a melodic way of playing walking bass lines (similar to the bass line I wrote in the Part 2.
Dr. Taylor vividly remembered bass players asking him to stop playing stride and to voice his LH chords higher up on the piano, to stay out of their way.
The “shell” voicings I show here were very common during the bebop era. By including the root and either 3rd or 7th of each chord, they give enough to indicate the basic tonality while letting the bass player and soloist (or right hand) use any melodic notes they prefer.
Notice how I’ve added some bebop-style embellishments to the RH melody. I’ve also changed many of the 6th chords to Maj7, and added an ending that’s typical of the bebop era.
Part 4: “shell voicings.
LH “shell” voicings with the root, 3rd, and 7th of each chord can give a surprisingly full sound. Even Bill Evans, who popularized the rich A and B voicings found in our next lesson, often used these more basic voicings when playing solo piano. Don’t worry if your hands aren’t large enough to stretch the 10th that some of these require. You can simply re-arrange those voicings to be root, 3rd and 7th, as in the second measure here.
The RH part is exactly the same as in lesson 3, so you can compare the difference in the LH sound between the 2 and 3-note voicings.
Part 5: A and B rootless voicings.
Here are the famous left hand ‘A and B’ voicings, popularized by Bill Evans. Even though these voicings are the basis of much contemporary jazz playing, you’ll learn a lot more as a player is you work through all 5 of these lessons in order, so you understand where how these rootless voicings developed historically.
(And as a bonus, you’ll know 5 great LH techniques, whereas a lot of jazz pianists nowadays only know one way to play!) Notice how I’ve moved the RH up an octave in spots to keep it out of the left hand’s way.
Have fun learning these LH techniques and applying them to your favorite jazz standards!
The Magician In You: Journey Through The Real Book #221 (Jazz Piano Lesson)
Understanding the context of jazz standards 0:00 Keith Jarrett’s early period 0:42 1970s jazz-rock 1:33 A similar groove from Elton John 2:19 The tune’s shifting harmonic centers 3:37 How to practice hearing your way melodically through the changes 5:14 Keith Jarrett’s famous one-chord vamps 5:58 Planning the performance 6:31 Beginning with the introductory vamp 6:56
Stating the melody 7:22 The short vamp between choruses 8:19 Improvising a melodic solo 8:24 Using faster rhythms in the improvised line 8:53 Varying a country-rock lick 8:58 A touch of the blues 9:05 A fast arpeggio 9:08 Simplifying the solo 9:16 Parallel 6ths 9:19 Extending the Bbm7/Eb vamp 9:22 Improvising over the chord changes 9:35 Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” 9:41 A more folksy sound 9:51 Developing a motif 9:56 More country-rock 10:07
Highlighting the gospel music influence 10:23 Keeping the vamp brief this time 10:30 Fast soloing over the changes 10:37 A little bebop 10:55 Improvising with trills 11:00 Playful rhythms and rhythmic variety 11:07 Parallel 3rds over the extended vamp 11:37 Using the Eb Mixolydian mode 11:43 Going outside the changes 12:27 “Call and response” 12:34 Middle Eastern-influenced modal playing 12:56 Going “outside” over the pedal point 13:14 Bringing in a little funk 13:25 Coming in for a landing 13:33
Using a calmer LH texture under the melody 13:42 Becoming rhythmic again, for contrast 13:55 The final vamp, and “fade” 14:39 Looking for hints of Jarrett’s later playing style 14:57 Enjoying our journey through The Real Book 15:27 Play piano with more joy and less stress 15:40
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, ou comme on l’appelait souvent, “Le roi du swing intérieur”, était l’un des artistes de musique jazz les plus influents et les plus réussis du XXe siècle. Capable de créer des mélodies divines et harmonieuses, ce pianiste et compositeur de jazz avait de la magie dans sa musique.
Avec ses mélodies apaisantes et harmonieuses, il a conquis le cœur de millions de personnes en créant une musique qui transcende les frontières culturelles et fait vivre aux gens un pur bonheur. Sa musique reflétait des émotions et des messages puissants, qui visaient à répandre la positivité, l’espoir et à connecter les gens avec ses merveilleuses créations musicales.
Considéré comme l’un des plus grands pianistes de jazz, il a eu une carrière impressionnante qui a duré plus de six décennies. Influençant et impactant le genre musical jazz, Oscar Peterson a donné au monde quelques-uns des meilleurs jazzmen jamais connus.
Les premières années d’Oscar Peterson
Né et éduqué à Montréal, au Québec, il a été élevé par sa famille composée d’immigrants des Antilles. Son père travaillait comme bagagiste pour les Chemins de fer du Canadien Pacifique. Ayant grandi dans le quartier de la Petite-Bourgogne à Montréal, la musique jazz et sa culture avaient pris racine profondément chez Oscar depuis le tout début.
À l’âge de cinq ans, Oscar avait perfectionné et perfectionné ses compétences à la trompette et au piano, mais en raison d’un épisode de tuberculose à l’âge de sept ans, il n’était plus capable de jouer de la trompette et a donc concentré toutes ses énergies sur le jeu de la trompette et le piano.
Ses premiers professeurs de musique comprenaient son père, qui était un trompettiste et pianiste amateur, et sa sœur, qui lui a appris le piano classique.
Au cours de ses premières années, Oscar a étudié avec le pianiste d’origine hongroise Paul de Marky, qui était un élève d’Istvan Thoman, et donc son apprentissage initial du piano était plus axé sur le côté classique. Mais bientôt son attention fut attirée par le jazz traditionnel et le boogie-woogie, ce qui l’inspira à apprendre diverses pièces de ragtime. Et peu de temps après, à l’âge de neuf ans, Oscar Peterson avait perfectionné son art et pouvait jouer du piano avec grâce et élégance, impressionnant même les musiciens professionnels.
Dans les années suivantes, il étudie et apprend le piano et pratique quatre à six heures par jour. Il était vraiment passionné et dédié à la musique de tout son cœur. En 1940, alors qu’Oscar avait quatorze ans, il remporte le concours national de musique organisé par la Société Radio-Canada.
Avec une oreille fine pour la musique, Oscar a décidé de devenir musicien professionnel. Et peu de temps après, il abandonna l’école, où il jouait également dans un groupe avec Maynard Ferguson. Après avoir quitté l’école, Oscar est devenu pianiste professionnel et a joué dans une émission de radio hebdomadaire, et en même temps, il jouait dans des auditoriums et des hôtels. Pendant son adolescence, il a par ailleurs été membre du Johnny Holmes Orchestra.
Mais au fur et à mesure que sa carrière musicale progressait, il commença à se concentrer sur le boogie-woogie et le swing, inspiré par des artistes comme Nat King Cole et Teddy Wilson. De 1945 à 1949, Oscar travaille en trio et enregistre pour Victoria Records. Et au moment où il avait atteint la vingtaine, Oscar s’était créé une image impressionnante en raison de ses incroyables talents musicaux, et était souvent considéré comme un pianiste techniquement brillant et mélodiquement inventif.
La carrière musicale d’Oscar Peterson
La manière dont Oscar a rencontré Norman Granz n’était rien de moins qu’une scène de film. Sur le chemin de l’aéroport, Norman Granz a entendu la radio qui diffusait depuis un club local et a été hypnotisé par l’étonnante musique de piano jazz qu’il a entendue.
Il a ensuite dit au chauffeur de taxi de l’emmener dans ce club particulier afin qu’il puisse rencontrer le talentueux pianiste de jazz. Et c’est là qu’il a rencontré Oscar Peterson.
Plus tard, il a également présenté Oscar à New York lors d’un concert ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’. Norman fut le manager d’Oscar pendant la majeure partie de sa carrière musicale. En 1950, Oscar a travaillé en duo avec le contrebassiste Ray Brown, puis a ajouté le guitariste Barney Kessel.
Peu de temps après, Herb Ellis a remplacé Barney Kessel et le trio était ensemble de 1953 à 1958, souvent en tournée avec ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’. Ce trio était considéré comme la collaboration la plus sensationnelle et la plus stimulante, que ce soit lors de représentations publiques ou d’enregistrements en studio.
Peu de temps après, Oscar a formé un trio avec le guitariste Joe Pass et le bassiste Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen, et a enregistré leur album légendaire ‘The Trio’ qui a remporté le Grammy Award 1974 pour la meilleure performance de musique jazz par un groupe. Le trio a ensuite créé certaines des musiques de jazz et de piano jazz les plus agréables et apaisants jamais créées. Et en 1974, Oscar a ajouté le batteur britannique Martin Drew à son groupe. Leur quatuor a été une collaboration fructueuse et a fait de nombreuses tournées et enregistrés dans le monde entier.
Plus tard, Oscar Peterson a également sorti ses enregistrements pour piano solo, qui présentaient son piano jazz solo, et a sorti une série d’albums intitulée ‘Exclusive for My Friends’. Oscar a enregistré plusieurs albums à succès avec divers musiciens tout au long de cette période jusqu’à ce qu’il ait un accident vasculaire cérébral. À la fin des années 1980 et 1990, après s’être remis d’un accident vasculaire cérébral, il se produit et enregistre avec son protégé Benny Green.
Au cours des années 1990 et 2000, il a enregistré plusieurs albums magnifiques et a offert au monde de la musique jazz de remarquables créations pour piano solo.
Inspirations et influences
La musique avait inspiré et attiré Oscar dès son plus jeune âge. Lorsque son père a joué un disque de ‘Tiger Rag’ d’Art Tatum, il a été fasciné et impressionné par la musique mélodieuse. Il a été influencé par des artistes légendaires comme Teddy Wilson, James P. Johnson, Nat King Cole et Art Tatum.
Il remercie également sa sœur de lui avoir enseigné le piano comme aucun autre professeur, et comment elle a enseigné et influencé sa carrière musicale. Sous la direction de sa sœur, Oscar Peterson a maîtrisé le cœur de la musique classique pour piano et a tout appris, des gammes aux préludes et fugues.
La santé et les dernières années d’Oscar
Alors qu’Oscar Peterson était un musicien incroyable et étonnant, il souffrait d’arthrite depuis sa jeunesse. Et plus tard, victime d’un accident vasculaire cérébral en 1993, celui-ci affaiblit son côté gauche et l’éloigne de la musique et du piano pendant près de deux ans.
Bien qu’Oscar ait récupéré et amélioré son côté gauche après l’AVC, son jeu de piano et sa capacité à jouer au maximum ont diminué. Il a ensuite ajusté son jeu et sa musique reposait principalement sur sa main droite. Plus tard, en 2007, la santé d’Oscar a commencé à se détériorer et le 23 décembre 2007, il est décédé à son domicile de Mississauga, en Ontario, en raison d’une insuffisance rénale.
La légende du piano jazz et son parcours remarquable
La musique est un langage qui ne parle pas avec des mots, il parle avec des émotions. Et le jazz est l’un de ces styles de musique qui passe par les oreilles et mène droit au cœur.
Oscar Peterson était l’un des musiciens de jazz les plus influents de notre époque et il a vraiment donné au monde du jazz des créations incroyables et stellaires. Souvent appelé « le Maharaja du clavier », il était un maître de son art et s’est produit lors de milliers de concerts dans le monde entier. Tout au long de son incroyable carrière musicale, Oscar Peterson a sorti plus de 200 enregistrements, a remporté huit prix Grammy, dont le ‘Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award’, et divers autres prix et distinctions comme le ‘International Lifetime Achievement Award’.
Considéré comme l’un des plus grands pianistes de jazz de tous les temps, Oscar Peterson est véritablement une légende. Écoutez la merveilleuse musique de piano jazz solo d’Oscar Peterson et de nombreux autres musiciens de jazz sur Calm Radio.
Born August 16, 1929, in Plainfield, NJ Died September 15, 1980, in New York, NY
William John Evans (August 16, 1929 – September 15, 1980) was an American jazz pianist and composer who mostly played in trios. His use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, block chords, and trademark rhythmically independent, “singing” melodic lines continue to influence jazz pianists today.
Bill Evans was born in Plainfield, New Jersey on August 16, 1929 and began his music studies at age 6. Classically trained on piano; he also studied flute and violin as a child. He graduated with a degree in piano performance and teaching from Southeastern Louisiana College (now University) in 1950, and studied composition at Mannes College of Music in New York. After a stint in the Army, he worked in local dance bands, and with clarenetist Tony Scott, Chicago-area singer Lucy Reed and guitarist Mundell Lowe, who brought the young pianist to the attention of producer Orrin Keepnews at Riverside Records.
Evans’ first album was New Jazz Conceptions in 1956, which featured the first recording of his most loved composition, “Waltz for Debby”. It’s follow-up, Everybody Digs Bill Evans was not recorded for another two years; the always shy and self- deprecating pianist claiming he “had nothing new to say.” He gradually got noticed in the NYC jazz scene, for his original piano sound and fluid ideas, when in 1958, Miles Davis asked him to join his group (which also featured John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley) He stayed for nearly a year, touring and recording, and subsequently playing on the all-time classic Kind of Bluealbum — as well as composing “Blue in Green”, now a jazz standard. His work with Miles helped solidify Bill’s reputation, and in 1959, Evans founded his most innovative trio with the now-legendary bassist Scott LaFaro and with Paul Motian on drums. The trio concept of equal interplay among the musicians was virtually pioneered by Evans, and these albums remain the most popular in his extensive catalog. They did two studio albums together in addition to the famous ‘live” sessions at NYC’s Village Vanguard in 1961. LaFaro’s tragic death in a car accident a few weeks after the Vanguard engagement — an event which personally devastated Bill — sent the pianist into seclusion for a time, after which he returned to the trio format later in 1962, with Motian again, and Chuck Israels on bass.
His 1963 Conversations With Myself album , in which he double and triple-tracked his piano, won him the first of many Grammy® awards and the following year he first toured overseas, playing to packed houses from Paris to Tokyo, now solidifying a worldwide reputation. The great bassist Eddie Gomez began a fruitful eleven year tenure with Bill in 1966, in various trios with drummers Marty Morell, Philly Joe Jones, Jack DeJohnette and others — contributing to some of the most acclaimed club appearances and albums in Evans’s career. His recorded output was considerable — (for Riverside, Verve, Columbia, Fantasy and Warner Bros) over the years, and he also did sessions (especially early on) with some of the top names in jazz. Musicians like Charles Mingus, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Oliver Nelson, Jim Hall, George Russell, Shelley Manne, Toots Theielmans, Kai Winding /J.J. Johnson, Hal McKusick and others all featured Evans. In the seventies, he recorded extensively– primarily trio and solo piano now and then, but also including several quintet albums under his own name as well two memorable dates with singer Tony Bennett.
His last trio was formed in 1978, featuring the incomparably sensitive Marc Johnson on bass and drummer Joe LaBarbera, which rejuvenated the often-ailing pianist, who was elated with his new line-up, calling it “the most closely related” to his first trio (with LaFaro and Motian). He suffered yet more family problems and upheavals in his personal life, (often due to bouts with narcotics addiction) and yet brought a new dynamic musical vitality, a surer confidence, fresh energy and even more aggressive interplay to the trio’s repertoire. Evans’ health was deteriorating, however, though he insisted on working until he finally had to cancel midweek during an engagement at Fat Tuesday’s in New York. A few days later, he had to be taken to Mount Sinai Hospital on September 15, 1980, where he died from a bleeding ulcer, cirrhosis of the liver and bronchial pneumonia . He is buried next to his beloved brother Harry, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
While Evans was open to new musical approaches that would not compromise his musical and artistic vision — such as his occasional use of electric piano, and his brief associations with avant-garde composer George Russell — he always insisted on the purity of the song structure and the noble history of the jazz tradition. It was a point the highly articulate Evans was quite forthcoming about in the various interviews he gave throughout his career. Consistently true to his own pianistic standards, he continued to enhance his own singular vision of music until the very end.
In his short life, Bill Evans was a prolific and profoundly creative artist and a genuinely compassionate and gentle man, often in the face of his recurring health problems and his restless nature. His rich legacy remains undiminished, and his compositions have enjoyed rediscovery by jazz players and even some classical musicians. Even twenty-five years after his passing, Bill Evans’ music continues to influence musicians and composers everywhere and all those who have been deeply touched by his expressive genius and sensitive, lyrical artistry.
Sweden ’70 If You Could See Me Now Someday My Prince Will Come Sleepin’ Bee You’re Gonna Hear From Me Re: Person I Knew
Denmark ’75 Sareen Jurer Blue Serge Up With The Lark But Beautiful Twelve Tone Tune Two
My foulish heart, Israel (partially), Emily, Alfie, ‘Round Midnight have been deleted to avoid copyright issues.
Bill Evans, one of the most influential and tragic figures of the post-bop jazz piano, was known for his highly nuanced touch, the clarity of the feeling content of his music and his reform of the chord voicing system pianists used. He recorded over fifty albums as leader and received five Grammy awards. He spawned a school of “Bill Evans style” or “Evans inspired” pianists, who include some of the best known artists of our day, including Michel Petrucciani, Andy Laverne, Richard Beirach, Enrico Pieranunzi and Warren Bernhardt. His inescapable influence on the very sound of jazz piano has touched virtually everybody of prominence in the field after him (as well as most of his contemporaries), and he remains a monumental model for jazz piano students everywhere, even inspiring a newsletter devoted solely to his music and influence.
Yet Bill Evans was a person who was painfully self-effacing, especially in the beginning of his career. Tall and handsome, literate and highly articulate about his art, he had a “confidence problem” as he called it, while at the same time devoted himself fanatically to the minute details of his music. He believed he lacked talent, so had to make up with it by intense work, but to keep the whole churning enterprise afloat he took on a heroin addiction for most of his adult life. The result was sordid living conditions, a brilliant career, two failed marriages (the first ending in a dramatic suicide), and an early death.
Bill Evans was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1929, of a devout Russian Orthodox mother and an alcoholic father of Welsh origins, who managed a golf course. Evans’ Russian side accounts for the special feeling many of his Russian fans have for him that he is one of them. Bill received his first musical training in his mother’s church; both parents were highly musical. He also held a lifelong attachment to the game of golf.
Bill Evans began studying piano at age six, and since his parents wanted him to know more than one instrument, he took up the violin the following year and the flute at age 13. He became very proficient on the flute, although he hardly played it in his later years. Proficiency at these instruments in which great emphasis is laid on tonal expressiveness, might have encouraged Evans to seek the similar gradations of nuance on piano. He did, of course, thereby extending the expressive range of jazz piano.
Evans’ older brother Harry, two years his senior, was his first influence. Harry was the first one in the family to take piano lessons, and Bill began at the piano by mimicking him. He worshipped his older brother and tried to keep up with him in sports too, and was devastated by his death in 1979 at the age of 52.
By age 12 he was substituting for his older brother in Buddy Valentino’s band, where at one point he discovered a little blues phrase by himself during a stock arrangement performance of “Tuxedo Junction.” It was only a Db-D-F phrase in the key of Bb, but it unlocked a door for him, as he said in an interview, “It was such a thrill. It sounded right and good, and it wasn’t written, and I had done it. The idea of doing something in music that somebody hadn’t thought of opened a whole new world to me.” This idea became the central one of his musical career.
Also, by the late 40s Evans considered himself the best boogie-woogie player in northern New Jersey, according to an interview with Marian McPartland on the radio show Piano Jazz. That was the musical rage at the time; later, however, Evans rarely played blues tunes in his performances or on his recordings.
Evans’ Reading Habits
Evans’ mother was an amateur pianist herself and had amassed piles of old sheet music, which the young Bill read through, gaining breadth and above all speed at sight reading. This enabled him to explore widely in classical literature, especially 20th century composers. Debussy, Stravinsky, notably Petrouschka, and Darius Milhaud were particularly influential. He found this much more interesting than practicing scales and exercises, and it eventually enabled him to experience broad quantities of classical music. As he told Gene Lees, “It’s just that I’ve played such a quantity of piano.
Three hours a day in childhood, about six hours a day in college, and at least six hours now. With that, I could afford to develop slowly. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned with feeling being the generating force.” (Lees, Meet Me, p. 150). And as he later told Len Lyons, playing Bach a lot helped him gain control over tone and to improve his physical contact with the keyboard (Great Jazz Pianists, 226).
College and After
Evans received a music scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana College (now Southeastern Louisiana University) in Hammond, Louisiana, where he majored in music, graduating in 1950. There is an archive there now dedicated to him administered by Ron Nethercutt. His professors faulted him for not playing the scales and exercises correctly, although he could play the classical pieces perfectly with ease. In college he discovered the work of Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Nat King Cole and Lennie Tristano, who was to have a profound influence on him. He also participated in jam sessions with guitarist Mundell Lowe and bassist Red Mitchell. After college he joined reedman Herbie Fields’ band. It was in this last position that he learned to accompany horn players. After that he spent 1951 to 1954 in the army, during which he managed to gig around Chicago. Upon his discharge he decided to pursue a jazz career and settled in New York. There he worked in the dance band of clarinetist Jerry Wald and saxophonist Tony Scott, and became known as an exceptional player in musicians’ circles. His first professional recording was made accompanying singer Lucy Reed in 1955, and in 1956 he joined George Russell’s avant-garde band and began studying Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept.
First Recording as Leader
In 1956 Mundell Lowe called Orrin Keepnews at Riverside and prevailed upon him and his partner Bill Grauer to listen to a tape of Evans over the phone. This was highly unusual, but Keepnews and Grauer heard enough to convince them they had to record Evans. But first they had to convince him! The very self-effacing Bill Evans didn’t believe he was ready to record, and Keepnews and company had to persuade him to the contrary. The atmosphere in the studio was relaxed. Evans had chosen Paul Motian, his drummer with Tony Scott, and Teddy Kotick, an excellent young bassist, who had already worked with Charlie Parker and Stan Getz. They recorded 11 pieces in a single day in September of 1956-it was Riverside’s money saving policy-including four Evans originals: “Five,” “Conception,” “No Cover, No Minimum,” and the eventual classic “Waltz for Debbie.” This last tune was one of three short (under 2 minutes) piano solos Evans recorded after the other members were dismissed. The album, entitled “New Jazz Conceptions” was a critical success, winning Evans very positive reviews in Down Beat and Metronome (by Nat Hentoff). But it only sold 800 copies in a year.
As a sideman that year and the next he also recorded with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, trumpeter Art Farmer, and reedmen Lee Konitz and Jimmy Giuffre, vibest Eddie Costa, and avant-garde conductor-composer (-pianist) George Russell, whose Lydian harmonic system Evans had found very useful. That year he also met Scott LaFaro, while auditioning him for a place in an ensemble led by trumpeter Chet Baker. Evans was impressed by the young bassist, whom he found overflowing with almost an uncontrolled energy and creativity. When Evans later chose LaFaro for his own trio he found that LaFaro had his talents under better control.
During a concert at Brandeis University in 1957, which combined written-out classical style music and jazz improvisation (before Gunther Schuller had founded the “third stream” movement, which claimed to do just that) Evans distinguished himself during a long solo on George Russell’s “All About Rosie.” Schuller and Russell were part of the event, along with jazz bassist Charles Mingus, Jimmy Giuffre and composers Milton Babbitt and Harold Shapiro. The solo constituted the announcement of the arrival of a new major talent, which his subsequent recordings would soon confirm.
Miles Hires Him
Evans’ big break, though, came when Miles Davis hired him shortly thereafter, putting him in a rhythm section behind John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley in addition to himself. Miles’ former pianist, Red Garland, had walked out on him, and Miles needed someone more versatile anyway. He was looking for a player who could handle modal playing, and Evans was it. He had met Evans through George Russell, with whom Evans was studying.
A performance of the Ballet Africaine from Guinea in 1958 had originally sparked Miles’ interest in modal music. Miles had very big ears and was always listening for new musical currents, both inside himself, from his past, and to new sources fellow musicians brought him. This African music, which featured the finger piano or kalimba, was the kind of music which stayed for long periods of time on a single chord, weaving in and out of consonance and dissonance. It was a very new concept in jazz at the time, which was dominated by the chord-change based music of bebop, which was really an extension of the American popular song. Miles realized that Evans could follow him into modal music. Moreover, Evans introduced Miles to Rachmaninoff, Ravel and Khachaturian, revealing new scales to him and generally expanding his appreciation for classical music.
Miles found Evans a very quiet, self-effacing person, so he wanted to test Evans’ musical integrity. After all, Evans was the only white guy in a powerful, prominently black band. Miles needed to see if he would be musically intimidated, so he said to Evans one day,
“Bill, you know what you have to do, don’t you, to be in this band?”
He looked at me puzzled and shit and shook his head and said, “No Miles, what do I have to do? I said, “Bill, now you kow we all brothers and shit and everybody’s in this thing together and so what I came up with for you is that you got to make it with everybody, you know what I mean? You got to f… the band.” Now I was kidding, but Bill was real serious, like Trane [John Coltrane].
He thought about it for about fifteen minutes and then came back and told me, “Miles, I thought about what you said and I just can’t do it, I just can’t do that. I’d like to please everybody and make everyone happy here, but I just can’t do that. I looked at him and smiled and said, “My man!” And then he knew I was teasing. (Davis, 226)
So Evans passed the test. Here’s why Miles liked Bill’s playing:
Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall. I had to change the way the band sounded again for Bill’s style by playing different tunes, softer ones at first. Bill played underneath the rhythm and I liked that, the way he played scales with the band. Red’s [Garland] playing had carried the rhythm but Bill underplayed it and for what I was doing now with the modal thing, I liked what Bill was doing better. (Davis, 226)
Evans made 10 albums with Miles in less than a year they were together, February to November, 1958. But Evans was uncomfortable in the group after seven months. He wanted to form his own-so did Adderley and Coltrane. They would all eventually become leaders in the field, and Miles’ group, despite the fact that it was at the top of the jazz field, was hemming them in. In addition, Evans disliked all the travelling, and the harrassment he was getting from black fans about being the only white musician in the group was getting to him-it was disturbing to Miles too. There was also the annoying criticism that he didn’t play fast enough or hard enough, that his playing was too delicate.
Evans’ Second Album as Leader
Evans had his second outing as a leader, once again for Riverside, in December 1958. He had officially left Miles’ group by that time. For this recording he chose Miles’ drummer Philly Joe Jones, with whom he worked many times after that, and Dizzy Gillespie’s bassist Sam Jones (no relation), who went on to a longterm relationship with Cannonball Adderley. The influence of his stay in Miles’ band is clear from his driving version of “Night and Day” as well as his choice of and performance on the hard bop tunes “Minority” by Gigi Gryce and “Oleo” by Sonny Rollins.
The real classic during that session is his original “Peace Piece,” which was originally conceived as an extended introduction to Leonard Berstein’s standard “Some Other Time.” It became a jazz standard, and he performs it during a 6 minute 41 second piano solo on the album. The tune is based on a succession of scales, which the player extends at will before going onto another scale, a new kind of balance at the time between structured and free (although similar in concept to Indian ragas) The tune, therefore, would never be played the same way twice.This is the nature of a free piece: the structure as well as the melody is unique to each individual performance occasion.
Along with the more driving swing in this album came a more personal, more nuanced touch. Evans was moving away from the dominant influences of his jazz formation-Bud Powell, with his extended horn lines, and Horace Silver, with his bluesy percussive approach-and toward the sound that would characterize his mature years. It testifies to a large amount of exploration and growth in the 26 months between the two recording sessions, including the assimilation of the influence of Lennie Tristano’s long flowing lines into his playing.
Since the stint with Miles had only benefited Bill’s reputation, Keepnews decided to title the album Everybody Digs Bill Evans and put testimonials from Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal and Cannonball Adderley on the cover. Issued in May, 1959, it sold much better than the first one.
Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue
Nonetheless, Evans played on Miles’ breakthrough Kind of Blue album (recorded in March-April 1959), even though he had been replaced by Wynton Kelly by then. Miles had planned the session around Evans’ playing. According to Miles, Wynton Kelly combined what he liked in Evans with what he had liked in Red Garland, and Kelly actually played on one tune on this album, “Freddy Freeloader.” The album grew, as did so many of Miles’ projects, out of a musical impression floating in Miles’ mind, in this case that Ballet Africaine, mentioned above, combined with some gospel music he had heard as a six year-old in Arkansas.
That feeling had got in my creative blood, my imagination, and I had forgotten it was there….So I wrote about five bars of that and recorded it….But you write something and guys play off it and take it someplace else through their creativity and imagination, and you just miss where you thought you wanted to go. I was trying to do one thing and ended up doing something else. (Davis, 234)
Miles wrote only sketches for the session, in order to tap into his musicians’ spontaneity, and with no rehearsals. It worked so well that everything was accepted on the first take. Evans applied his deep musical integrity and imagination to the task, as Miles said, “Bill was the kind of player that when you played with him if he started something, he would end it, but he would take it a little bit farther. You subconsciously knew this, but it always put a little tension up in everyone’s playing, and that was good” (Davis, 234).
Yet the collective result did not correspond with Miles’ original inspiration. The album was acclaimed as a masterpiece, but Miles told people he had missed getting what he wanted. Perhaps he got more; perhaps he never could have gotten it given the degree of freedom he gave his powerful sidemen. Recognizing his articulateness about music, Miles had Evans write the liner notes for the album. Evans summarizes the spontaneous process in the purest possible light, an ironic contrast to Miles’ mix of intentions, realization and frustration:
There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.
The resulting pictures lack the complex compositions and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation.
Every procedural and structural element in this description has its analogue in jazz, and this statement could well stand as Evans personal artistic manifesto. “Ordinary painting” could well refer to classical music.
Bill Evans on His Own Development
Evans was extremely aware about every factor in his music and musical development, making him one of the most articulate jazz musicians on the scene. Throughout his career he did numerous interviews, which not only document his views on a variety of musical subjects, but offer us his eloquent thinking voice. One of the clearest messages he gave dealt with his own development, its difficulties and the rewards of those difficulties:
I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually…deeper and more beautiful…than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning. I say this because it’s a good message to give to young talents who feel as I used to. You hear musicians playing with great fluidity and complete conception early on, and you don’t have that ability. I didn’t. I had to know what I was doing. And yes ultimately it turned out that those people weren’t able to carry their thing very far. I found myself being more attracted to artists who have developed through the years and become better and deeper musicians. (Williams, n. p.)
Evans once told Gene Lees right out that he didn’t think he had much talent, and later that he had to work on his harmonic concept so much because he “didn’t have very good ears” (Lees, Meet Me, 151-2).
Evans’ Chord Voicings
Although he rarely talked about them, Evans was the main person responsible for reforming jazz voicings on piano. A voicing is the series of notes used to express a chord. Up until that time chords had been expressed either by spelling the chord, with root, 3rd, 5th, 7th and sometimes 9th, or with a selection of these notes. Bud Powell had pioneered the so-called “shell” voicings or alternations between outer and inner notes of a chord, that is root-7th or 3rd-5th or 3rd-7th.
Evans abandoned roots almost entirely to develop a system in which the chord is expressed as a quality identity and a color, with the root being left to the bassist, or to the left hand on another beat of the measure, of just left implied. The system has become quite widespread, and a student can find it explained in any number of books on jazz piano theory and technique. But Evans had to derive them from composers like Debussy and Ravel and make a standard system out of them so they could be used unconsciously, automatically, and in doing so he transformed jazz piano.
The Piano Trio Concept: Equality of Instrumental Voices
From there Evans launched into a career characterized mostly by trio recordings. His concept of the trio was a much more egalitarian one than the one prevalent at the time. Evans gave the bassist and drummer more active roles than most rhythm section sidemen in trios, with a resulting greater degree of interplay among the musicians. He made a series of live recordings at the Village Vanguard in 1961, embodying this principle. These remain among his best recordings, featuring Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. Evans, who was normally very critical of himself was quite pleased with these recordings. In them he also reveals his prediliction for the waltz, which would be a constant throughout his career.
When bassist Scott LaFaro died tragically later that year in a car accident at age 23, these recordings took on even more significance as his memorial. Evans did not record for almost a year while mourning for LaFaro. During the rest of his career Evans searched for LaFaro’s equals on bass. He may have found them later in Eddie Gomez and Marc Johnson.
Awareness of His Stylistic Identity and Its Influence
Evans maintained that he was not aware of the importance of his influence on jazz piano, although he finally believed it, after hearing it so many times. He saw his own style as simply the necessary one to express what he wanted to express. Here’s how he explained it:
First of all, I never strive for identity. That’s something that just has happened automatically as a result, I think, of just putting things together, tearing things apart and putting it together my own way, and somehow I guess the individual comes through eventually….I want to build my music from the bottom up, piece by piece, and kind of put it together according to my own way of organizing things….I just have a reason that I arived at myself for every note I play (Enstice and Rubin, 139-140).
Evans on One’s Personal Sound
As a corollary to a musician’s stylistic identity, one eventually develops one’s own unique sound. This may be very difficult to define, although easily recognizable by ear. Not everyone has one. “I think having one’s own sound in a sense is the most fundamental kind of identity in music,” said Evans.
But it’s a very touchy thing how one arrives at that. It has to be something that comes form inside, and it’s a long-term process. It’s a product of a total personality. Why one person is going to have it and another person isn’t, I don’t know why exactly. I think sometimes the people I seem to like most as musical artists are people who have had to-they’re like late arrivers….They’ve had to work a lot harder…to get facility, to get fluency…Whereas you see a lot of young talents that have a great deal of fluidity and fluency and facility, and they never really carry it any place. Because in a way they’re not aware enough of what they’re doing. (Enstice & Rubin, 140)
Bill Evans’ Mature Style
Evans’ mature style has been such a pervasive influence in jazz piano over the past thirty years that in many ways it is almost undetectable. We can speak of his highly nuanced touch, his melodic shapes, and his chord voicings and still be at a distance from the essence of his sound. To clarify this essence it is useful to isolate and describe the elements of his style, which other pianists have picked up with different degrees of fidelity to Evans, and then see what is left to Evans alone.
At the most general level, jazz pianists today tend to sound more like Evans than they do like his two great piano predecessors and influences, Bud Powell, and Lennie Tristano. Like Evans and unlike Powell and Tristano, the contemporary style utilizes a greater proportion of shaped phrases than continuous lines; it utlizes a greater proportion of chromaticism and non-major scale modes than Powell certainly; and it utilizes Evans’ chord voicings as a point of departure for its harmonic conception. After this, approaches to touch, harmony, and melodic shape are highly individualized.
At closer stylistic proximity to Evans are the members of his “school,” mentioned above, whose playing makes direct reference to his style. In the work of these pianists you will hear more frequently such typical Evans traits as moving inner voices, fleet block chord melodies, rhythmically truncated melodic lines which leave the listener in mid-air, scalar passages-especially diminished scales-in thirds, and his poignant harmonies, including reharmonizations and original tunes with harmonic structures similar to those Evans used.
Yet when you listen closely to the recordings of Evans himself you hear things not present even in his closest followers, for example, the fine gradation of touch that offers up emotional nuance at a truly surprising level of sensitivity. Any of Evans’ external figures can be imitated, even nuances of touch, but that’s just the surface structure of his music. The key to the uniqueness of his sound which is immediately identifiable and has never been perfectly duplicated by anyone, lay deep within his aesthetic consciousness. Putting into perspective how he arrived at his sound offers a clue to the nature of this consciousness, this emotional intention expressed musically, which is the deep engine of his music and accounts for its uniqueness.
Evans’ Internal Musical Engine
We know Evans disliked exercises, avoided playing them; that he read quickly and accurately an enormous amount of classical (and other) printed music, and performed it perfectly; that he stressed that he played nothing without feeling; and that he felt he had arrived at his mastery and hallmark sound the long way around, not by imitating anything, or by any method other than the assimilation of enormous amounts of music. From this perspective a finger exercise would be an unacceptable short-cut, since it would remove the player from the emotional potential of music by unacceptably isolating technique from feeling. By taking the time to refuse to do this during his entire formation Evans recreated jazz piano for himself, and by extension for the rest of the field.
Personal students of Evans say that he would never spell out anything he did for them: chord voicings, fast passages, whatever-you just had to figure it out if you really wanted it. But Evans wasn’t just being difficult: he was insisting on the same standards of authenticity for his student as he claimed for himself. But that leaves us with a paradox. If it is impossible through mere imitation for anyone to recreate Evans’ style without his internal engine which invested every musical gesture with his emotional content; then by taking Evans’ route, by playing no music without an investiture of emotion, the student would necessarily formulate a unique musical personality different from that of Evans.
Of course, this is what Evans, the teacher, wanted. We didn’t need any more Bill Evanses. His teaching approach challenged the student to be as deep and as original as he was.
Effects of Evans’ Style
But having said this, what can Bill Evans’ music accomplish, given its expansive emotional charge and infinitely fine nuances of touch? In a word: intimacy. His music manages to address an attentive listener’s inmost private thoughts, so close to the thinking and feeling organ that you are not sure if you are producing the effects or if the music is. When you emerge from the intense and delicate reverie the music has induced the rest of jazz piano may sound unbearably coarse-even Evans’ followers. It may take you a while to reset in order to be able to appreciate the separate musical personality of a different player. But you will have felt the power of Evans’ aesthetic purity, and when appreciated under the proper conditions, it is awesome.
Many people have had this experience and become devoted fans, wondering all the while if anyone else knew what they were experiencing. Yet this is the paradox of music that achieves intimacy. It offers the illusion that it is addressing itself solely to you. Lees describes it at the beginning of his article.
Evans Meets His Long-Term Manager
Jazz writer Gene Lees, a personal friend of Evans, was in 1962 leaving an editorial post at Down Beat. He had recently met manager Helen Keane and formed a h4 personal relationship with her, insisting that she hear Bill Evans. But Evans already had managerial contracts, in fact, two of them, which constituted an official mistake by the musicians’ union. First Lees brought Keane to hear Evans. He was playing at the Village Vanguard. Marlon Brando and Harry Belafonte owed their starts to her, and Lees realized Keane could work wonders on Evans’ career. As soon as she heard the first few seconds she said, “Oh, no, not this one! This is the one that could break my heart.” But she was willing to do it.
Then Lees set up lunch with the president of the union, a personal friend of his, and presenting the conflict, asked him to cancel both of the existing contracts.
His Drug Habit
Evans had been sinking into a heroin habit in the late 50s, and by the time Helen Keane entered his life in 1962 it was in full bloom. He was married, and his wife Ellaine was an addict too. Evans habitually sought to borrow money from friends, every day calling a string of his friends in his address book from a telephone booth on the street outside his apartment, since his phone had been disconnected. Many became infuriated at being contacted again and again for money. One day when Lees blew up at him, saying he didn’t even have enough for himself to eat, Evans called back an hour later to say he now had enough for both of them to eat.
His friends were afraid to withhold all money from him, because then he’d go to the loan sharks who’d threaten to break his hands if he didn’t pay. At one point his friends, including Lees, Helen Keane, Orrin Keepnews, and his new producer Creed Taylor decided to withhold cash from him, while directly paying his bills, and they appointed the reluctant Lees to break the news to Evans.
Lees found Evans in his apartment, where the electricity had been shut off, but he got around that by running an extension cord from a hallway light under the front door. Evans was furious at his friends’ scheme and angrily described the importance of his habit to him, as Lees relates:
“No, I mean it,” he said. “You don’t understand. It’s like death and transfiguration. Every day you wake in pain like death and then you go out and score, and that is transfiguration. Each day becomes all of life in microcosm” (Lees, Meet Me, 156).
It was an elegant, aestheticized account of the process that was destroying him. Lees says that later after Evans was clean he claimed to have learned something valuable from his addiction: tolerance and understanding for his father’s alcoholism. This leaves volumes unsaid, of course, namely the devastating effect on Bill’s confidence of having an alcoholic father, and the unmet childhood needs which resulted in his own self-destructive addiction. At least he didn’t have children during the time he was hooked.
Orrin Keepnews found it difficult to turn down Evans’ request for money because of “the sweetness of his nature and his immense moral decency,” unlike certain other musicians whose turpitude made him easy to turn down. But Bill would just wait there in the Riverside office until Keepnews would relent and give him some cash.
But when Helen Keane got Evans signed to Verve and negotiated a large advance from producer Creed Taylor, Bill took the money and meticulously paid back everyone what he owed them. He came by for Lees in a cab and went from apartment building to apartment building, with Lees holding the cab, armed with his cash and card file, and took care of all his debts. At the end he reimbursed Lees $200 for pawning his record player and some of his records. He had even went so far as to find Zoot Sims in Stockholm and gave him $600, a sum which Sims had simply forgotten about.
In the winter of 1962-63 Evans came up with the idea for his first multi-track solo piano album. Although overdubbing had been used before, specifically by guitarist Les Paul and Mary Ford (Paul had also pioneered the electric guitar), and by Patti Page, it had never been used quite like this. Neither producer Creed Taylor, nor Lees or Keane-who constituted the Evans inner circle at the time-knew quite what Bill had in mind. But Evans knew exactly. Nowadays, overdubbing and digital editing are standard procedure and are used to produce most popular music. Today the techniques are used to build a piece bit by bit, permitting numerous takes of each track and minute editing changes. But back then, with analogue tape running at 30 ips, the artist had to have a complete global grasp of everything before he laid it down. Evans was used to this level of conception. Once he had the session the way he wanted it, his friends were amazed:
The four of us in the control booth-Ray [Hall, the engineer], Creed, Helen, and I-were constantly openmouthed at what was going on. On the second track Bill would play some strangely appropriate echo of something he’d done on the first. Or there would be some flawless pause in which all three pianists were perfectly together; or some deft run fitted effortlessly into a space left for it. I began to think of Bill as three Bills: Bill Left Channel, Bill Right, and Bill Center.
Bill Left would lay down the first track, stating the melody and launching into an improvisation for a couple of choruses, after which he would move into an accompanist’s role, playing a background over which Bill Center would later play his solo. His mind obviously was working in three dimensions of them simultaneously, because each Bill was anticipating and responding to what the other two were doing. Bill Left was hearing in his head what Bill Center and Bill Right were going to play a half hour or so from now, while Bill Center and Bill Right were in constant communication with a Bill Left who had vanished into the past a half hour or an hour before. The sessions took on a feeling of science-fiction eeriness.
When Bill had completed the first two tracks, Creed and Helen and I all thought that he shouldn’t do a third-that another one would only clutter what he had already done. We were wrong.
As the end of the track neared, the “third” Bill took the opening figure and extended it into a long fantastic, flowing line that he wove in and out and around and through what the other two pianists were playing, never colliding with these two previous selves. That final line seemed like a magic firefly hurrying through a forest at night, never striking the trees, leaving behind a line of golden sparks that slowly fell to earth, illuminating everything around it. I think Helen and Creed were close to tears when he completed that track. I know I was (Lees, Meet Me, 160).
Evans left for Florida, where he successfully kicked his habit for a while, then returned to New York in time to receive a Grammy Award for Conversations with Myself. Later Evans created two more overdub albums, Further Conversations in 1967, also on Verve, produced by Helen Keane, and New Conversations in 1978 on Warner Brothers, which opens with his tribute “Song for Helen,” includes a tribute to his second wife Nenette (“For Nenette”), reinforced by the Cy Coleman standard “I Love My Wife,” and the Ellington rarity “Reflections in D.” It is generally considered to be the best of the three.
Evans’ Fortunes on the Rise
Evans became better known and sold more records as the decade went on. He was soon making enough money for him and his wife to move out of Manhattan to a comfortable section of the Bronx called Riverdale. Meanwhile Creed Taylor had left Verve and started his own label CTI, and it fell to Helen Keane to take on the role of producer. Gene Lees helped set up the Montreux Jazz Festival and arranged for Evans to play in it in 1968 and thereafter, recording his performances from that year and 1970. When Evans left Verve he spent some time briefly recording for Columbia, but did not consider it very productive. At one point its president, Clive Davis, tried to get him to make a rock album, which Evans flatly turned down.
After that Evans went to Fantasy, which turned out to be a much more fruitful association. He produced some of his most mature satisfying work there. His fame only continued to grow as he acquired more fans among music lovers and disciples among pianists everywhere. Lees tells the story of a piano-playing Toronto dentist he had called when Evans had a toothache there. Lees had been turned down by the nurse because the call had come in after hours. When the dentist heard about it, he was appalled. “What,” he said, “Do you realize you turned down God?” and rushed down to the Town Tavern where Evans was playing, tools in hand, to fix his ailing tooth (Lees, Meet Me, 166).
It was also around this time, 1970, that Evans’ wife Ellaine committed suicide by throwing herself under a subway train. As a result, he went back on heroin for a while, then got into a methadone treatment program, and stayed away from drugs for almost the last decade in his life. He married again, to Nenette, and had a child by her, whom they named Evan. His son became the inspiration for the beautiful tune “Letter to Evan.” The marriage did not last, however, and soon he was living by himself in Fort Lee, New Jersey, right across the George Washington Bridge.
Last Decade of Recording
Evans’ last decade of recording showed him growing even more as an artist. His 1974 live LP, Since We Met, is one of his very best, containing new versions of his ruminative ballad in memory of his father, “Turn Out the Stars,” his radically beautiful “Time Remembered,” the Earl Zindars beauty “Sareen Jurer,” performed in both 3/4 and 4/4 time, and Cy Coleman’s waltz “See-Saw,” among others. In 1979 he gave a magnificent concert in Paris which Helen Keane later turned into two LP releases on Musician, called simply Paris Concert, Edition I and II. They reveal him with an unmatched rhythmic drive, summoning up all his stylistic resources, filling the entire musical space with an expanding energy. He takes fruitful risks, such as when he opens his classic “Nardis” with a solo piano improvisation, a kaleidoscopic exploration of figures and forms, finally landing on the familiar middle-Eastern sounding melody, bringing in the rest of the rhythm section in a triumphant release of suspense. The audience was ecstatic.
Last Addiction and Death
In 1980 Bill Evans began using cocaine, the fashionable drug that he imagined was “safe.” But actually it demands replenishment in the bloodstream every few hours rather than just once a day like heroin, and as a stimulant, it wears you down that much faster. At the end of summer of that year, Bill asked his drummer Joe LaBarbera to drive him to the hospital, since he was having severe stomach pains. He calmly directed Joe to Mount Sinai, checked in, and died there the 15th of September.
The tributes poured in, and by 1983 a double album had been assembled with pianists who had been influenced or touched by Evans, each contributing a single piece. His stature has only continued to grow, with a newsletter devoted to his music and followers edited by Win Hinkle in North Carolina, and now on the Internet. He has become, along with Oscar Peterson, one of the major enduring forces in jazz piano.
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, CC, CQ, OOnt, jazz pianist, composer, educator (born 15 August 1925 in Montréal, QC; died 23 December 2007 in Mississauga, ON). Oscar Peterson is one of Canada’s most honoured musicians. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. He was renowned for his remarkable speed and dexterity, meticulous and ornate technique, and dazzling, swinging style.
He earned the nicknames “the brown bomber of boogie-woogie” and “master of swing.” A prolific recording artist, he typically released several albums a year from the 1950s until his death. He also appeared on more than 200 albums by other artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, who called him “the man with four hands.” His sensitivity in these supporting roles, as well as his acclaimed compositions such as Canadiana Suite and “Hymn to Freedom,” was overshadowed by his stunning virtuosity as a soloist.
A self-taught amateur organist and strict disciplinarian, he led the family band in concerts at churches and community halls. He insisted that all of the Peterson children learn piano and a brass instrument. Each in turn taught the next youngest child.
Oscar began playing trumpet and piano at age five. He focused solely on piano at age eight following a year-long battle with tuberculosis. (The disease claimed the life of his eldest brother, Fred, at age 16.) Oscar’s first instructor was his sister, Daisy. She became a respected piano teacher in Montreal’s Black community. Her later pupils included the jazz musicians Oliver Jones, Joe Sealy and Reg Wilson. Peterson’s brother, Chuck, became a professional trumpet player. His other sister, May, taught piano. She also worked for a time as Oscar’s personal assistant.
Peterson studied piano during his youth and teens with teachers of widely different backgrounds. At the age of 12, he briefly took piano lessons from Louis Hooper, a classically trained Canadian veteran of the Harlem jazz scene of the 1920s. Later, Peterson attended the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal. At 14, he studied with Paul de Marky, a Hungarian concert pianist in the 19th-century tradition of Franz Liszt. Peterson was also a classmate of trumpet player Maynard Ferguson. They played together in a dance band led by Maynard’s brother, Percy.
At age 14, Peterson entered an amateur contest sponsored by radio personality Ken Soble. (He was encouraged to enter by his sister Daisy, who also helped pay for his studies.) Oscar won the $250 first prize. Shortly thereafter, he began his own weekly radio show, Fifteen Minutes Piano Rambling, on the Montreal station CKAC. In 1941, he was featured on CBM’s Rhythm Time. By 1945, he was heard nationally on the CBC’s Light Up and Listen and The Happy Gang.
Peterson’s growing command of the keyboard reflected his classical background. However, the influence of the popular American pianists Nat King Cole, Teddy Wilson and especially his idol, Art Tatum, steered him towards a future in jazz. Even a chronic case of arthritis, which first became apparent in his teens, could not slow his progress. During his teen years, he received offers from Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie to move to the US and join their bands. His parents felt he was too young and wouldn’t allow it.
Oscar Peterson emerged as a celebrity in Montreal’s music scene in the early 1940s. He dropped out of high school at age 17 to play as a featured soloist in Johnny Holmes’s popular (and otherwise white) dance band from 1943 to 1947. Peterson’s father was skeptical of letting his son leave school to pursue a career in music. He reportedly told Oscar, “If you’re going to go out there and be a piano player, don’t just be another one. Be the best.”
Canada’s First Jazz Star
Peterson made his first recordings for RCA Victor in March 1945. These early releases, notably “I Got Rhythm” and “The Sheik of Araby,” reveal the talent for boogie-woogie that earned him the nickname “the brown bomber of boogie-woogie.” They also reveal the extraordinary technique that would characterize his playing throughout his career. Peterson made sixteen 78s (32 songs in total) for RCA Victor between 1945 and 1949, The last of these suggest the influence of bebop. These songs were compiled on CD by BMG France in 1994; they were repackaged by BMG Canada in 1996 as The Complete Young Oscar Peterson (1945–1949).
The popularity of these records established Peterson as the first jazz star that Canada could truly call its own. His exposure on CBC Radio and his two tours of Western Canada in 1946 also contributed to his growing fame. By 1947, he was headlining Montreal’s Alberta Lounge with his own trio. It consisted of Austin “Ozzie” Roberts on bass and Clarence Jones on drums. (Guitarist Ben Johnson occasionally subbed in for Jones.) The trio was heard on Montreal radio station CFCF in broadcasts from the lounge. The other recorded document of Peterson’s Montreal years is the soundtrack for Norman McLaren’s innovative and award-winning National Film Board short, Begone Dull Care (1949).
By the end of the 1940s, Peterson had all but exhausted the limited jazz market in Canada. Word of his talent had spread to the US. Following a tour to Montreal, Dizzy Gillespie told composer and record producer Leonard Feather, “There’s a pianist up here who’s just too much. You’ve never heard anything like it! We gotta put him in concert.”
However, Feather took no action. Similarly, American jazz impresario and record producer Norman Granz heard about Peterson through Coleman Hawkins and Billy Strayhorn. But Granz also failed to reach out to the Canadian pianist until a 1949 visit to Montreal. Granz was on his way to the airport to leave the city when he heard Peterson playing on the radio from the Alberta Lounge. He told the cab driver to take him there immediately.
Granz became Peterson’s manager. He decided to introduce Peterson to American audiences at a Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 18 September 1949. The lineup for the show included such jazz greats as Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich, Roy Eldridge and Lester Young. Granz couldn’t secure Peterson a work visa in time for the show. So, he planted him in the audience and brought the six-foot-three, 240-pound 24-year-old onstage as a surprise guest.
Peterson’s performance with bassist Ray Brown caused a sensation. DownBeat magazine wrote that it “stopped the concert dead cold in its tracks.” The appearance was a watershed moment for Peterson. It marked the beginning of an international career of remarkable productivity and distinction.
Norman Granz became a close friend and was Peterson’s manager until 1988. Under his guidance, Peterson toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1950 to 1952. His bravura performances, both in concert and on record, immediately captured the imagination of the American public. The growth and persistence of Peterson’s popularity was reflected in his first-place standing in the piano category of DownBeat magazine’s readers’ poll 15 times in 23 years: in 1950–54, 1958–63, 1965–67 and 1972. He also won the magazine’s critics’ poll in 1953, in addition to many other such polls.
Peterson made his first American recordings for Granz’s label, Verve, in 1950 with Ray Brown as his bassist. Their version of “Tenderly” was especially popular. In 1951, Peterson formed a trio with Brown (who would be a stalwart of Peterson’s groups for the next 15 years) and drummer Charlie Smith. Smith was soon replaced by the guitarists Irving Ashby (formerly of the Nat King Cole Trio), Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis, who joined in 1953.
The Peterson-Brown-Ellis trio was regarded by many as the best piano-bass-guitar trio of all time. It became renowned for its passionate and spontaneous soloing, as well as its ability to play at breakneck tempos and to tackle complex arrangements.
Peterson toured Europe with JATP in 1952, 1953 and 1954. He returned annually with his trio for many years. They often accompanied the singer Ella Fitzgerald. In 1953, Peterson made the first of many appearances in Japan. In the early 1950s, while playing at a club in Washington, DC, Peterson met his idol, Art Tatum. The two became good friends. Peterson performed at the Montreal, Stratford, Shaw and Vancouver International festivals, and appeared often in Canadian nightclubs. His trio recorded a celebrated LP at Stratford — Oscar Peterson at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival (1956). It also recorded the acclaimed On the Town (1958) at Toronto’s Town Tavern.
Throughout his career, Peterson made Canada his home base. In 1958, he moved from Montreal to Toronto, and later to nearby Mississauga. Also in 1958, Ellis left the trio. In 1959, Peterson changed its composition to piano, bass and drums by adding drummer Ed Thigpen, famous for his sensitivity and meticulous brushwork. The Peterson trio of this period was celebrated for its seemingly telepathic sense of interplay and its virtuosity.
Night Train (1962), recorded with his trio, proved to be one of Peterson’s most commercially successful albums. Canadiana Suite (1964) was one of his most acclaimed. Between 1963 and 1968, he recorded a series of solo albums for MPS called Exclusively for my Friends. Following the departure of Brown and Thigpen in 1965, Peterson added bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes. Hayes was replaced in 1967 by Bobby Durham. During the years 1967–71, Peterson recorded for the most part in Villingen, West Germany, for the Saba label (later MPS).
In 1970, Oscar Peterson began to perform solo almost exclusively. He returned to the small ensemble format in 1972 with guitarist Joe Pass and bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. The success of this trio rivaled that of the Peterson-Brown-Ellis group. The band expanded to a quartet in 1974 with the addition of drummer Martin Drew. In the 1970s, Peterson recorded with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Stéphane Grappelli on many of his own albums for the Pablo label.
The mid-1970s saw Peterson achieve a high degree of critical acclaim and industry recognition. He had four Grammy Award-winning albums: The Trio (1973), The Giants (1974), Oscar Peterson and the Trumpet Kings – Jousts (1974) and Montreux ’77 (1977). He also released live records of concerts in Tokyo, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Tallinn, The Hague and New York.
His album If You Could See Me Now (1983), recorded with the quartet of Pass, Ørsted Pedersen and Drew, won a 1987 Juno Award for Best Jazz Album. However, by decade’s end, his arthritis had become increasingly severe. As a result, he reduced his performance schedule to a matter of weeks each year in Europe, Japan and the US.
In 1990, he reunited with the Brown-Ellis trio, producing several acclaimed albums of their performances at the Blue Note club in New York. Live at the Blue Note (1990) and Saturday Night at the Blue Note (1990) won a total of three Grammy Awards. Last Call at the Blue Note (1990) received a Juno Award nomination.
In 1993, several months after having hip replacement surgery, Peterson had a stroke while performing at the Blue Note. His left side was especially affected. He withdrew from commitments and resumed performing gradually after a two-year recovery. A restricted ability in his left hand became noticeable; it greatly reduced the strong contrapuntal quality that he had always played with. Yet he continued to tour, compose and record. According to broadcaster Ross Porter, “What he was able to achieve, playing with half of what most other pianists had, he was still light years ahead of everyone else.”
Peterson appeared at Carnegie Hall in 1995 and at a tribute to him at New York’s Town Hall in 1996. His album Oscar Peterson Meets Roy Hargrove and Ralph Moore (1996) was nominated for a Juno Award in 1997. He played Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, and occasionally at jazz festivals, such as Toronto’s 2001 JVC festival and various European festivals. Also in 2001, he toured Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By that time, he had completed more than 130 albums under his own name, mainly for the labels Verve (1950–64), MPS (1967–71), Pablo (1972–86) and Telarc (beginning in 1990).
In 2002, Peterson published his memoir, A Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson. A tribute concert held at Carnegie Hall on 8 June 2007, as part of the Fujitsu Jazz Festival, featured performances by Wynton Marsalis, Marian McPartland, Hank Jones and Clark Terry. Peterson was originally scheduled to appear but bowed out due to frail health. He died of kidney failure in his Mississauga home in December that year.
As a composer, Peterson wrote and recorded a variety of his own jazz themes. His popular “Hymn to Freedom” (from Night Train, 1962) became an anthem of the US civil rights movement during the 1960s. Versions of “Hymn to Freedom” were recorded in the 1980s by Oliver Jones and Doug Riley.
Peterson’s most significant and best-known composition was Canadiana Suite (1964). It is an eight-part programmatic survey of Canada’s distinguishing features, including “Wheatland” (the Prairies), “Hogtown Blues” (Toronto) and “Land of the Misty Giants” (the Rocky Mountains). Described by Peterson as “a musical portrait of the Canada I love,” Canadiana Suite was nominated for a Grammy Award as best jazz composition of 1965. It has been arranged for big band by both Phil Nimmons and Ron Collier, and for orchestra by Rick Wilkins, who served on several occasions as Peterson’s orchestrator.
Peterson’s compositions have been recorded by such jazz greats as Count Basie, Ray Brown, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Eldridge, Marian McPartland, Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Jackson. His other works for jazz group over the years included “Hallelujah Time,” “Blues for Big Scotia,” “The Smudge,” “Bossa Beguine,” “A Little Jazz Exercise,” “Tippin’,” “Mississauga Rattler,” “Samba Sensitive” and a variety of informally conceived blues works. Parts of Peterson’s suites (e.g., “Nigerian Marketplace” from African Suite) have been played and recorded as independent pieces.
Through his studies with Paul de Marky, Peterson followed in the pianistic tradition of Franz Liszt. Impressionist and late-Romantic influences were also detected in his playing. After a concert in Toronto in 1950, Hugh Thompson observed in the Daily Star, “His version of ‘Tenderly’ leans heavily on Debussy and Ravel in its harmonies, and his ‘Little White Lies’ had definite echoes of Rachmaninoff.”
In jazz, Peterson acknowledged the influence of Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Hank Jones and Nat King Cole (whom Peterson resembled especially on the rare occasions he sang). Peterson’s style can be heard as the product of a transitional period in jazz, the 1940s. Even in his later years he moved freely from stride to bebop.
Gene Lees, writing in Maclean’s in 1975, quoted the Argentine composer-pianist Lalo Schifrin as saying, “Oscar is a true romantic in the 19th-century sense, with the addition of the 20th-century Afro-American jazz tradition. He is a top-class virtuoso.” Lees added, “This response is common. Peterson has astounding speed. Only Phineas Newborn and the late Art Tatum, one of his idols and mentors, have equaled him. And he has a power of direct swing that Tatum never equaled.
His ideas are not always original; on a poor night, he falls back on his own highly identifiable phrases of musical vocabulary and some he got from others, such as a curious spinning chromatic figure of Dizzy Gillespie’s. But these alone can be electrifying — the brilliantly clear and perfectly balanced runs, like streams of sparks, the great chords whacked into perfect place in the swing with the left hand that plays tenths effortlessly and could, I suppose, if he wanted, encompass twelfths, the dizzying passages in octaves that utilize a left hand as proficient as the right.”
Criticism and Praise
Paradoxically, Peterson’s greatest strength, his technique, brought him his greatest criticism: that his performances, for all their facility, were an overwhelming mélange of style over substance and lacked emotional warmth. In 1973, Times of London music critic John S. Wilson wrote, “For the last 20 years, Oscar Peterson has been one of the most dazzling exponents of the flying fingers school of piano playing.
His performances have tended to be beautifully executed displays of technique but woefully weak on emotional projection.” The New York Times noted in his obituary that, “many critics found Mr. Peterson more derivative than original, especially early in his career. Some even suggested that his fantastic technique lacked coherence and was almost too much for some listeners to compute.” JazzTimes critic Thomas Conrad described Peterson’s achievements as “more athletic than aesthetic.” He claimed that songs which should have been occasions for self-revelation became, in Peterson’s hands, “elegant, flawless and detached.”
Noted musicologist Max Harrison and New Yorker columnist Whitney Baillett found Peterson’s style to be glib and superficial. No less a figure than Miles Davis criticized Peterson’s ability for interplay, saying that, “nearly everything he plays, he plays with the same degree of force. He leaves no holes for the rhythm section.”
The Toronto Star’s Peter Goddard once observed that, “wowing audiences with flash fingering bothered critics who thought speed was all he had… In the 1950s hailed as ‘the greatest living jazz pianist,’ by 1961 it was an opinion that ‘would not be considered in serious jazz circles,’ snapped British critic Burnett James.”
However, Peterson’s champions typically outnumbered his critics. Duke Ellington nicknamed him “the Maharaja of the keyboard” and said he was “beyond category.” In the early 1990s, esteemed American pianist Hank Jones said, “Oscar Peterson is head and shoulders above any pianist alive today. Oscar is the apex. He is the crowning ruler of all the pianists in the jazz world. No question about it.” Acclaimed pianist Marian McPartland described him as “the finest technician that I have seen,” and pianist and conductor André Previn called him “the best” among jazz pianists.
Following Peterson’s death, the Independent described him as “an explosion of talent” who “could overwhelm any style of jazz piano and… swing harder than any other player. In fact, the best way to define the elusive quality of ‘swing’ might be to use a Peterson performance as an illustration. He had a deep knowledge of jazz history and could play two-fisted stride, or complex and intricate bebop. His timing and imagination also made him one of the great ballad players. He had everything, with only an occasional penchant for rococo decoration to detract from his achievements.”
Influence on Other Pianists
Peterson’s influence on his fellow musicians is difficult to estimate. His extraordinary level of skill made his playing difficult to emulate directly, as did his lack of affiliation with a particular style or idiom. However, he was an early inspiration to many pianists. Herbie Hancock once wrote, “Oscar Peterson redefined swing for modern jazz pianists for the latter half of the 20th century… I consider him the major influence that formed my roots in jazz piano playing. He mastered the balance between technique, hard blues grooving, and tenderness.” Nanaimo, BC, native Diana Krall once called Peterson “the reason I became a jazz pianist. In my high school yearbook it says that my goal is to become a jazz pianist like Oscar Peterson.”
Career as Educator
Peterson operated the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto from 1960 to 1962 with Phil Nimmons, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. The school was closed after only three years due to the demands of Peterson’s performance schedule. But it drew jazz students from cities throughout North America. The faculty grew to include Erich Traugott (trumpet), Jiro “Butch” Watanabe (trombone) and Ed Bickert (guitar). Peterson’s own pupils included Skip Beckwith, Carol Britto, Brian Browne, Wray Downes and Bill King.
Peterson also wrote four volumes of his Jazz Exercises and Pieces for the Young Jazz Pianist, which were published in the mid-1960s. He was also present at the inception of the Banff Centre for the Arts Jazz Workshop in 1974. He returned to an academic setting in 1985 as adjunct professor of music at York University. He also served as chancellor there from 1991 to 1994 and became an honorary governor in 1995. He also assisted in establishing the Oscar Peterson Jazz Research Centre at Winters College, York University’s school of fine arts.
Radio and TV Broadcasts
After his early career on CBC Radio, Peterson was not heard with any regularity on the network, save for his recordings. That changed in the 1970s, when Jazz Radio-Canada broadcast concert performances, and That Midnight Jazz and The Entertainers offered profiles. Peterson himself was host for the short series Oscar Peterson’s Jazz Soloists (1984) and Jazz at the Philharmonic (1990).
He was seen in several specials on CBC TV, including: Oscar Peterson Inside (1967); A Very Special Oscar Peterson (1976); Oscar Peterson’s Canadiana Suite (1979), a performance with a 37-piece orchestra of his Canadiana Suite with corresponding scenic footage; and the 13-episode series, Oscar Peterson and Friends (1980). He was also host in the mid-1970s of CTV’s Oscar Peterson Presents (1974), and BBC TV’s Piano Party (1976) and Oscar Peterson Invites… (1977). CBC Radio presented a seven-part documentary on him in 1994. The CBC TV biography series Life and Times featured him in the 2003 episode “Oscar Peterson: Keeping the Groove Alive.”
Peterson was married four times, first to Lillian Fraser (1944–58), with whom he had two sons and three daughters. After his marriage to Sandra King (1966–76), he had one daughter with his third wife, Charlotte Huber (1977–87). His marriage to Kelly Peterson (née Green), with whom he had one daughter, lasted from 1990 until his death in 2007.
Peterson received a multitude of honours and awards, from international recognition of the highest order to schools and scholarships named in his honour. During the 1976 Olympic Summer Games in Montreal, he was awarded a key to the city. In 1978, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In 1990, the Festival international de jazz de Montréal established the annual Oscar Peterson Award to recognize “a performer’s musicianship and exceptional contribution to the development of Canadian jazz.” In 1993, he was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize. That award’s namesake is considered Peterson’s only rival among Canadian pianists.
Concordia University named a concert hall in Peterson’s honour in 1998; it also created the Dr. Oscar Peterson Jazz Scholarship with Verve Music Group Canada in 2000. In 1999, Peterson became the first Canadian and the first jazz musician to receive the Praemium Imperiale Award, the arts equivalent of the Nobel Prize, from the Japan Art Association.
In 2000, Peterson received the UNESCO International Music Prize and a citation from US President Bill Clinton recognizing his achievements. Also that year, his album, The Trio, was designated a Masterwork by the Government of Canada’s AV Preservation Trust. In 2001, the cities of San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco, California, declared the week of 28 August to 2 September “Oscar Peterson Week.” The US House of Representatives presented him with a commendation in recognition of his contributions to society.
In 2002, Peterson became the first person inducted into the Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame. He also received a lifetime achievement award that year from the Urban Music Association of Canada. In 2003, Mississauga named a street Oscar Peterson Boulevard, and the government of Austria issued a stamp in his honour. In 2005, a public school in Mississauga was named after him, and Canada Post made him the first living person other than a reigning monarch to appear on a stamp. In 2008, “Hymn to Freedom” was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In 2010, York University’s Department of Music created the $40,000 Oscar Peterson Entrance Scholarship. In 2013, Peterson was posthumously inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. A life-sized sculpture of Peterson, unveiled on 30 Jun 2010 by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, sits permanently outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
Produced by Metallica’s Robert Trujillo in association with Passion Pictures, JACO includes some incredible insights from an array of artists including Flea, Joni Mitchell, Sting, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Geddy Lee, Bootsy Collins, Carlos Santana and others as well as Jaco’s family, and friends. It unveils the story of his music, his life, his demise, and ultimately the fragility of great artistic genius.
There are few musicians who fundamentally change their instrument, and even fewer still who transcend their instrument altogether. Jaco Pastorius did both.
In 1976, Jaco’s melodic “singing” bass style redefined the role of the bass in modern music. Almost overnight, critics hailed Jaco Pastorius as “the future of modern music,” alongside popular visionaries like David Bowie, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Bryan Ferry, Lou Reed, and Herbie Hancock.
Driven only by his own desire to create the music he wanted to hear, Jaco transformed himself from a poor and unknown, scrappy Florida boy, into an international sensation — all without any formal musical training. Instead of chasing popular music, Jaco led his fans towards the music inside him. Defiantly jumping off amplifiers, heaving his bass through the air, and refusing to be just a “sideman,” Jaco broke down the barriers between audiences and genres.
Unfortunately, for many of our most sensitive artists, great genius comes at great cost… and Jaco Pastorius was no exception.
Now over 25 years since his violent and untimely death, his story will teach the world about true musicianship, family, and the indestructible power of the human spirit.
Moon Beams is a 1962 album by jazz musician Bill Evans, and the first trio album recorded by Evans after the death of Scott LaFaro. With Chuck Israels on bass taking the place of LaFaro, Evans recorded several songs during these May and June 1962 sessions. Moon Beams contains a collection of ballads recorded during this period. The more uptempo tunes were put on How My Heart Sings!. In 2012, it was released a new remastered edition which includes three previously unreleased alternate takes.
Personnel: Bill Evans (p) Chuck Israels (b) Paul Motian (dr) Released: Mid December 1962 Recorded: May 17, 1962 (#5,9) May 29, 1962 (#1, 8) June 2, 1962 (#2-4, 6-7) June 5, 1962 (#10-11) Label: Riverside RLP-428 Producer: Orrin Keepnews
“Re: Person I Knew” (Bill Evans) “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” (Johnny Burke, Jimmy Van Heusen) “I Fall in Love Too Easily” (Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne) “Stairway to the Stars” (Matty Malneck, Mitchell Parish) “If You Could See Me Now” (Tadd Dameron) “It Might as Well Be Spring” (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II) “In Love in Vain” (Leo Robin, Jerome Kern) “Very Early” (Bill Evans)
Writing for Allmusic, music critic Thom Jurek wrote of the album “…selections are so well paced and sequenced the record feels like a dream… Moonbeams was a startling return to the recording sphere and a major advancement in his development as a leader.”
Bill Evans, William John Evans (August 16, 1929 – September 15, 1980) was an American jazz pianist and composer who mostly played in trios. His use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, block chords, and trademark rhythmically independent, “singing” melodic lines continue to influence jazz pianists today. Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1929, he was classically trained at Southeastern Louisiana University and the Mannes School of Music, where he majored in composition and received the Artist Diploma. In 1955, he moved to New York City, where he worked with bandleader and theorist George Russell. In 1958, Evans joined Miles Davis’s sextet, which in 1959, then immersed in modal jazz, recorded Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time.
During that time, Evans was also playing with Chet Baker for the album Chet. In late 1959, Evans left the Miles Davis band and began his career as a leader, with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, a group now regarded as a seminal modern jazz trio. In 1961, ten days after finishing an engagement at the New York Village Vanguard jazz club, LaFaro died in a car accident. After months of seclusion, Evans re-emerged with a new trio, featuring bassist Chuck Israels. In 1963, Evans recorded Conversations with Myself, a solo album using the unconventional technique of overdubbing over himself. In 1966, he met bassist Eddie Gómez, with whom he would work for eleven years. Many of Evans’s compositions, such as “Waltz for Debby”, have become standards, played and recorded by many artists. Evans was honored with 31 Grammy nominations and seven awards, and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.