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Dan Brown (1400020414), 1st year BMus (Jazz), Question number 1

Bill Evans emerged onto the scene as a band-leader in the late 50s with the
launch of his debut album aptly named The New Jazz Conceptions (1956). As
the title suggests he introduced a new approach to playing jazz; building upon
the bebop tradition as well as borrowing elements from western classical music.
His music has since gone on to inspire a generation of musicians, most notably
Andy Laverne (who briefly studied with Evans) as well as Michel Patrucciani and
Alan Broadbent. He has been integral in my development as a jazz pianist and is
a direct influence in my playing. In this essay Ill highlight the key contributions
Evans made to the music and how they have influenced my own playing.

Fig.
2

Evans harmonic language was incredibly advanced for the time; he spent a
lot of time studying the music of French impressionist composers such as
Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Arguably his most significant contribution
regarding harmony is his development of rootless chord voicings. Whilst they
originated in the playing of pianists Red Garland and Ahmad Jamal in the early
1950s, Evans was one of the first to structure and
Fig.
completely integrate them into his playing. He established
two formulae for constructing them; the first formula
builds upon the 3rd of the chord and the second upon the
7th (both formulae are shown for a Cmin9 chord in fig. 1i).
Because the root is omitted, the left hand is freer to play more upper extensions
of a chord. Below are the first four bars of Evans take on the popular standard
How deep is the ocean (fig. 2ii); it is an excellent example of how Evans applied
rootless voicings in a trio context. Evans superb use of voice leading is seen in
bars 2 and 3. Here he limits the movement between voicings to just a tone or
semi-tone. Not only does this enable him to play through the changes with
minimal effort it also makes the harmony more transparent. Here also he has
changed the quality of the II chord from half-diminished to dominant seventh
sharp nine, making the minor II-V-I sound more contemporary. In bar 4 this is
conveyed as he plays just the 3rds and 7ths of the chords rather than a complex
voicing. Evans was noted for this subtlety, and even when comping behind a
soloist using two-handed voicings hed often only use a maximum of 5 voices. iii
When I

discovered this it totally changed my approach, which up until a few of years ago
was centred more on Bud Powell style rooted voicings.

In the same year as Bill released his own pivotal recording, Everybody Digs
Bill Evans, 1959 also saw Miles Davis venture into the realms of modal jazz with
the launch of his record Kind of Blue which along with Wynton Kelly featured
Evans as a pianist. Whilst Kelly plays a swinging bop oriented solo on Freddie

Dan Brown (1400020414), 1st year BMus (Jazz), Question number 1


Freeloader, it is Evans who really embraces the idea of modality of the record.
His playing on So What was particularly revolutionary as he introduced a new
voicing shape that has since been widely adopted by pianists. The So What
voicing (or quartal-tertial voicing) consists of a stack of 3 perfect fourths with a
major third on top. Like with quartal voicings, they can be moved diatonically or
chromatically in parallel motion. Prior to this point, melodies were generally
harmonised using George Shearings block chord method. However, after the So
What voicing was introduced, pianists such as McCoy Tyner started to harmonize
their melodies using them. An example is Tyners tune, Peresina off his record
Expansions (1969). Personally these voicings have become a staple part of my
harmonic language and I regularly use them when comping. I have recently
experimented with inverting them to create good voice leading when moving to
upper structure dominant voicings.
Before releasing records under his own name as a band leader, Evans
collaborated with theoretician and composer, George Russell in the early 50s.
Russell explored the idea that the Lydian mode acted more as a tonic than Ionian
and in 1953 he published his book, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal
Organizationiv. Evans was heavily influenced by the theory and incorporated it
into his playing. Evans composition Peace Piece is a good example. Based on a
pastoral left hand ostinato in the key of C, Evans freely improvises and the #11 is
heard throughout. It is one of the first ostinato pieces in jazz history to be
composed/improvised before Indian music became assimilated with jazz v. Peace
piece has influenced countless musicians; Mile Davis even used the ostinato as
the basis for his composition Flamenco Sketches that also features on Kind of
Blue. Furthermore it can be argued that the composition and Evans use of free
improvisation could have influenced Keith Jarrett when he played the famous
Koln concert in 1975.
When playing in ensembles Evans emphasis was the idea of interaction or
interplay between musicians. This is seen the most in his trio of 1959 to 1961 in
which featured Paul Motian of drums and Scott LaFaro on bass, and Dr. Gordon
Vernick goes as far as to say that Evans trio work was the crux of Bill Evans
imprint on jazzvi. Unlike his contemporaries such as Horace Silver who was still
playing hard-bop, Evans wanted to explore what was possible in a trio context.
Portrait in Jazz was the first record to feature this line up. With the exception of
Bills compositions, Blue in Green and Peris Scope, the record is mainly
comprised of standards. Autumn Leaves is one such example and sees a
dramatic shift in the roles of the bassist and drummer; straying from an
accompanying role to a more conversational one. Firstly the walking bass is far
freer, implying highly syncopated rhythms as opposed to a constant flow of
crotchets. Evans encouraged LaFaro and Motian to interject melodies
themselves. This idea of a three way conversation between the piano, bass and
drums went onto influence many great rhythm sections. Working with Bill on
Kind of Blue influenced Miles when forming his second great quintet vii, choosing
Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter as the basis for the rhythm section which is
widely regarded as being one of best in jazzs history. If it wasnt for Evans it may
not have been conceived.

Dan Brown (1400020414), 1st year BMus (Jazz), Question number 1


Whilst Evans is most noted for his trio work, he also pioneered what was
possible in a duo context, recording two albums (Undercurrent and
Intermodulation) with the late, great guitarist, Jim Hall as well as a piano/vocal
album with Tony Bennett to give just a few examples. The Tony Bennett/Bill
Evans Album (1975) was released at a time when the jazz charts were saturated
with a plethora of jazz vocal records, which in the main were heavily produced;
aiming towards a big sound, and often featuring large ensemble
accompaniments. Bennetts and Evans album on the other hand, as a stripped
down duo, went in the opposite direction and as such was very fresh. It had a
very personal quality that set the standard for jazz vocal albums to come. Its
influence has reached into other genres and pop singer Jamie Cullum dubs the
album as one of [his] favourite[s]viii.
In order to keep the music spontaneous, Evans tried to keep rehearsals to a
minimum. In a 1973 interview at Fantasy Records Studios he said, We never
have rehearsals. If something sounds worked out, thats the result of playing it
over and overix. Parallels can be drawn between Evans approach and that of
Keith Jarrett. Like Evans he mostly draws from a pool of well-known standards
rather than writing predetermined arrangements and when talking to Downbeat
he too said that practicing usually gets in the way of [his] performing x.
In the mid 60s Evans went on to explore interplay in a unique context,
recording the pair of albums Conversations with Myself (1963) followed by
Further Conversations with Myself a few years later (1967). The records used a
technique called overdubbed allowing him to layer several takes on one
recording. At the time it was mostly used commercially as a gimmick and it was
Lennie Tristano who first put the technique to creative use when he recorded the
tracks Pastime and Ju Ju in 1951 as well as Turkish Mambo in 1956. Especially
in the latter (where he recorded three separate piano tracks, respectively in five,
six and seven), Tristanos focus was more on rhythmic counterpoint. With his
efforts however, Evans pushed the use of the technique further, aiming to
imitate the feel of a piano trio in a solo context. In his statement on the sleeve
notes for Conversations with Myself Evans says that [he knows his] musical
techniques more thoroughly than any other person xi. Because of this he was
able to respond to himself with more clarity than playing with an ensemble,
strengthening the interplay. The record was ground-breaking and along with
others such as Eddie Harris (a saxophonist who experimented with guitar effects
pedals on the album The Electrifying Eddie Harris in 1967) changed the way
technology in conjuncture with music was viewed creatively.
One of Bills biggest contributions to jazz was his use of tone, which
previously wasnt much of a consideration. According to Gene Lees in his article
The Poet: Bill Evans, Bud Powell has a painful tone xii and it wasnt until Nat
Cole that tone began to be changed. Evans brought a level of tone control more
akin to that of a classical musician and had a very fine control of the velocity of
his fingers as a result of his impeccable technique. In his memoir, Chuck Israels
(Evans bassist from 1961 to 1966) recalls Evans fingers as pistons, poised a
scant millimeter over the keysxiii. As well as the attack of the note Evans also

Dan Brown (1400020414), 1st year BMus (Jazz), Question number 1


considered the end of a note, always holding it on for its full value. This
attributed to the lyrical style he became known for. Evans tone has become a
standard model for jazz pianists and is widely imitated. For me personally, Evans
opened my ears to how the piano can be played and I have spent many hours
trying to emulate his touch by transcribing a couple of his solos. Whilst Ive
managed to assimilate some of the nuance in his playing, tone is still a big issue
for me and Im continuing to work my finger strength.
Whilst more noted for his harmonic contributions he also did a lot to advance
how rhythm was viewed in jazz. Israels puts down Evans rhythmic conception to
a combination of the swing of Bud Powell with the more varied cross rhythms of
Bartok and Stravinskyxiv. As well as using common cross rhythms between
duples and triples he explored the use of more complex ones. In this phrase from
a transcription I did of his solo on Night and Day (Fig. 3 xv) he explores how
triplets can be used; transitioning between quaver, semi-quaver and crotchet
triplets in just 3 bars. Furthermore in the second bar of the excerpt Evans
combines a duple rhythm within a triplet.

Fig.

Within this solo too Evans sophisticated phrasing is seen. Fig. 4 xvi shows the
opening 8 bars of the solo. Note how the phrasing here is sparse with the longest
line being only 3 bars. This style of phrasing is most seen in my own playing.
Here also Evans use of motivic development is seen; the fragment of the G H/W
diminished scale in bar 2 has been manipulated in two ways, both rhythmically
augmented in bar 3 (shown in blue) and melodically in bar 5 (shown in orange).
This kind of subtle motivic development is synonymous with Evans and it gives
his solos a cohesive direction. This is something Im personally working towards
as I feel my chorus are more like a collage of unconnected ideas.

Fig.
4
favou
rite

Dan Brown (1400020414), 1st year BMus (Jazz), Question number 1


To conclude, in my opinion, if it wasnt for Bill Evans, the soundscape of
modern jazz piano today would be very different. He has had a massive impact
on my own playing especially with regards to my use of harmony. In writing this
essay I have unearthed a whole array of other avenues to explore. Bill Evans
legacy serves as a lasting inspiration.

Bibliography

Fig. 1 was created by me using Sibelius.

ii

Bill Evans, How Deep the Ocean, Explorations, 1961, Riverside RLP-351 Excerpt transcribed
by myself
iii

Jason Lyon, A Compendium of Jazz Piano Voicings, 2007, Pg. 89

iv

http://www.lydianchromaticconcept.com/lccoto_2.html

Chuck Israels, An Article On Bill Evans, Pg. 4

vi

Dr. Gordon Vernick, Jazz Insights Ep.2 Bill Evans The Early Years, 2009

vii

Dr. Gordon Vernick, Jazz Insights Ep.2 Bill Evans The Early Years, 2009

viii

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/event/article-2786664/elton-john-ray-charles-jamie-cullumreveals-ten-pianists-influenced-career.html
ix

Len Lyons, The Great Jazz Pianists, 1983, Pg. 222

http://downbeat.com/microsites/ecm-jarrett/post_9-jarrett-acoustic-pianist.html

xi

Bill Evans, Conversations With Myself, 1963, Verve V/V6-8526 Quote from Evans statement
on the sleeve notes.
xii

Gene Lees, The Poet: Bill Evans, Originally published in Downbeat however taken from Robert
Gottliebs Reading Jazz, 1997
xiii

Chuck Israels, An Article On Bill Evans, Pg. 2

xiv

Chuck Israels, An Article On Bill Evans, Pg. 1

xv

Bill Evans, Night and Day, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, 1959, Riverside RLP 12-291 Excerpt
transcribed by myself
xvi

Bill Evans, Night and Day, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, 1959, Riverside RLP 12-291 Excerpt
transcribed by myself

Sources

http://www.billevans.nl/History.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Piece
Robert Gottlieb, Reading Jazz, 1997
John Valerio, Post-Bop Jazz Piano, 2005
Len Lyons, The Great Jazz Pianists, 1983
Eunmi Shim, Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music, 2007