William John Evans

Born August 16, 1929, Plainfield, New Jersey, U.S.

Died September 15, 1980, New York, New York

American jazz pianist known for lush harmonies and a glassine approach to melody and improvisation. Bill Evans was one of the most influential pianists of the 20th Century.

Evans’s first piano teacher was his mother. Evans also studied violin and flute.

He graduated college with a music teaching degree from Southeastern Louisiana College in 1950 and then promptly move to New York City.

After a brief period working as a pianist in New York, Evans was drafted into the army and played flute in the Fifth Army Band.

Upon his return to civilian life, Evans went back to New York and immediately began to connect with important Jazz musicians of the time. As early as recordings from 1956 show that Evans already had a fleshed out sense of technique and an individual approach to harmony. One of the first to discover Evans’ brilliance was Miles Davis, who quickly recruited Davis into his band. Evans and Davis worked through 1958 on what would become Kind of Blue (1959). Evans contributed the work “Blue in Green” for the album.

Because Evans compositions were so detailed and tailored to his own playing, many of his works were not immediately picked up by fellow pianists. Yet, today, his works are performed with great consistency.

The way Evans built and connected chords and improvised melodies gave his playing a romantic quality that contrasted with much of 1950s bebop. His style was much more influenced by, and reminiscent of, Classical composers such as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Aleksandr Scriabin.

Evans’s slowly became known for how lyrical he could perform on an instrument, the piano, that had was so inherently percussive. Evans also became known for repurposing many previously unknown or obscure works, including lesser-known works from musicals such as “Someday My Prince Will Come”.

Bill Evans plays My Foolish Heart

Evans output in the 1960s was affected by a heroin addiction, but he recovered and began a career resurgence with The Bill Evans Album (1971). He became addicted to cocaine shortly before his death in 1980.

‘Round Midnight, from Conversations with Myself

Spartacus Love Theme, from Conversations with Myself

Over the course of his career Evans won multiple Grammy Awards and reached wide audiences with television and festival appearances, as well as recordings and club dates. He was considered the most important jazz pianist of his generation and was an enormous influence on his contemporaries Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett.

Interview with Bill Evans


Improvisations by Keith Jarrett

Words on the Koln Concert

1984, Toky Japan, Live Concert