Monday, March 02, 2015

Music Education Monday:
Inside the musical mind of Bill Evans

Since today marks 56 years to the day since Miles Davis began recording his landmark album Kind of Blue, for this week's "Music Education Monday" let's take a closer look at one of the musicians who played a key role in those sessions.

Bill Evans (pictured) was the pianist in what's often called Davis "first great quintet," and his lyrical piano style, and the way it meshes with Davis' concept of modal jazz, is a distinctive feature of Kind of Blue.

(As an indication of his importance to the sessions, Evans was tapped to write the liner notes for Kind of Blue, and it's interesting to compare the finished version with images of the hand-written draft that recently appeared online.)

Evans' work with Davis and his playing with his own trio have influenced several subsequent generations of pianists, and fortunately for musicians who'd like to learn more about him, there's a wealth of material online that not only examines Evans' life and career but offers detailed looks at his music as well.

For starters, the Bill Evans Web Pages, though now no longer updating, and a tribute site from the Netherlands offer useful overviews of Evans with plenty of supplemental material.

After that, Keyboard magazine's article "Five ways to play like Bill Evans" offers a quick gloss on Evans' piano style, and Australian pianist Dan Papirany has written an essay on Evans' improvisational concepts that's worth a look.

For sheet music and transcriptions, start with the Bill Evans fake book, which contains basic versions of many of the tunes Evans played frequently, and there's also a PDF book available online transcribing and analyzing Evans' "signature licks." You can find more Evans tunes and solos transcribed here, here and here.

For the definitive word on Evans' approach to music, you can listen to the man himself, via The Universal Mind Of Bill Evans, a 1966 film in which Evans and his brother Harry discuss jazz, improvisation and the creative process:

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