Childhood & Early Life
He was born to Harry and Mary Evans. His father was of Welsh descent while his mother was of Ukrainian ancestry. His father had many alcohol-related disorders which led to a troubled home atmosphere. He was two years younger than his brother Harold, with whom he maintained a very cordial relationship
At the age of six, he began his piano lessons along with his elder brother at Somerville, and also studied violin, piccolo and flute which had a deep impact on his keyboard style. Later, he went to take piano lessons in Dunellen with a local teacher Helen Leland.
In his high-school days, he got introduced to 20th century music like Stravinsky’s Petrushka, and Milhaud’s Suite Provencale. Around this time, he got his first exposure to jazz and also started playing in high-school band.
Later on, he started playing throughout New Jersey in musical gigs exploring various genres of music, especially boogie-woogie and polka. During this period he met George Platt, who introduced him to the harmonic principles of music.
In September 1946, he enrolled himself at Southeastern Louisiana University on a flute scholarship, where he received a comprehensive knowledge of classical piano interpretation. He also led the fraternity’s football team to a league championship as a quartet.
In 1949, he composed his first tune, ‘Very Early’ and was a founding member of American collegiate musical fraternity, ‘Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia’. Soon after, he formed his first trio with his friends, Connie Atkinson on bass and Frank Robell on drums, and played in clubs in New Jersey.
Continue Reading Below
In 1950, he graduated with high honors as a piano major receiving the Bachelor’s degree in music education. He performed Beethoven’s piano concert number 3 for his senior recital. In the same year, he formed a trio with guitarist Mundell Lowe and bassist Red Mitchell, and relocated to New York. However, low bookings forced them to leave for Calumet city, Illinois.
In July 1950, he collaborated with Herbie Field’s band based in Chicago and started to tour with them in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC. Soon he received conscription from the US Army and got placed in the Fifth army band at Fort Sheridan near Chicago for three years.
In 1954, he went back to New York after serving three years in the US Army, and started playing in Tony Scott’s quartet. In the same year, he undertook postgraduate studies at Mannes College of music.
In September 1956, he recorded his debut album, New Jazz Conceptions, featuring the original versions of "Waltz for Debby", and "Five". New Jazz Conceptions was initially a failure as it sold only 800 copies in the first year but received critical success.
In April 1958, he embarked on an eight-month gig with the Miles Davis’s sextet. Soon he made his first studio album, ‘Jazz Track’ with Davis but he left the sextet by November, as he became tired of high expectations. In December, he released the album ‘Everybody digs Bill Evans’ with Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones, for which he received great attention.
By the fall of 1959, he formed a trio with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. It became one of the most acclaimed piano trios and soon they recorded their first album ‘Portrait in Jazz’.
In 1961, three albums were produced in a short span of time including ‘Explorations’, Oliver Nelson’s ‘The blues and the abstract truth’, ‘Sunday at the village vanguard’ and ‘Waltz for Debby'. The last two albums were the live recordings and are considered to be the greatest jazz recordings of all time.
In June 1961, Evans went into seclusion for almost a year because of the untimely death of Scott LaFaro in a car accident. He re-emerged the following spring with new bassist Chuck Israelis and released ‘Nirvana’ with Herbie Mann and his trio. Soon ‘Undercurrent’ followed in which he collaborated with Jazz guitarist Jim Hall.
In 1966, he released ‘Bill Evans trio with Symphony Orchestra’, which proved to be quite dull and his least significant recording. Soon, he discovered a Peurto Rican bassist Eddie Gomez who joined his trio and the year 1968 saw their most successful release ‘Bill Evans at the Monteux Jazz Festival’.
Continue Reading Below
In 1968, drummer Marty Morell joined the trio and remained in the band until his retirement in 1975. This was Evans's most stable, longest-lasting group.
In early 1955, he recorded ‘The Singing Reed’ with Lucy Reed, an American jazz singer. During this period he came across composer George Russell and his model jazz theory. In the following year, he worked with him in a series of recordings called ‘Jazz Workshop’.
In 1959, he came back to the Davis’s sextet to record the ‘Kind of Blue’, which is regarded as the best jazz album of all the time. It is also the highest-selling acoustic jazz album. It opened the whole new world of melodic and harmonic possibilities.
In 1962, after re-forming his trio, he released two albums ‘Moon Beams’ and ‘How My Heart Sings!’ In the same year, upon signing with Verve, he recorded ‘Conversations with Myself’, which was an instant classic for the Jazz community.
In 1971, he released ‘The Bill Evans Album’. Soon, other albums followed namely, ‘The Tokyo Concert’ (1973), ‘Since we Met’ (1974), ‘But Beautiful’ (1974). After Mart Morell left, Evans and Gomez recorded two duo albums, ‘Intuition’ and ‘Monteux II’.
In 1974, he recorded a jazz masterpiece entitled ‘Symbiosis’, which was written for him by Claus Ogerman. He also collaborated with singer Tony Bennett on ‘The Tony Bennett and "Bill Evans Album’ (1975) and ‘Together Again’ (1977).
In 1976, Eliot Zigmund was chosen to be the new drummer after going away of Morell. Together they released the album, ‘I will Say Goodbye’ and ‘You Must Believe in Spring’ in 1977.
In 1978, Gomez and Zigmund left the trio. Finally Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera were settled on bass and drums respectively. In the following year, he recorded his last studio album ‘ We will Meet Again’.
Continue Reading Below
Awards & Achievements
His album ‘Conservations with Myself’ won him many awards including Grammy award (1963), Japanese swing general award (1967), and English melody maker award (1968).
In 1969, his alma mater, Southeastern Louisiana University, gave him ‘Distinguished alumnus award’, the highest award of its order. In the same year, he received the Grammy award for his album, ‘At the Monteux Jazz festival’.
He won three more Grammy awards for his albums, ‘Alone’ (1971), ‘The Bill Evans Album’ (1972), ‘I will Say Goodbye’ (1980) and ‘We will Meet Again’ (1980).
In 1994, he was posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Personal Life & Legacy
In late 1950s, he had his first long-term romance with a black woman Peri Cousins. It lasted until the end of the decade when they parted ways.
In 1960, he met a waitress named Elaine with whom he was in a relationship for twelve years. In 1963, they moved from his flat in New York and settled in his parent’s home in Florida. In 1973, she committed suicide due to her own infertility and Evan’s interest in a new woman, Nenette Zazzara.
In 1973, he married Nenette Zazzara and after two years of their marriage, they were blessed with a son, Evan. The new family also included Evan’s step-daughter Maxine but the marriage did not last - they remained quite close until his death.
In April 1979, he met a Canadian waitress Laurie Verchomim with whom he had a relationship until his death. She was 28 years younger than him.
His recordings from radio broadcasts in 1960 were posthumously issued as ‘The 1960 Birdland Sessions’, which his band had performed at the New York City hall.
He was an avid reader and relished philosophy and humorous books.
He liked painting and drawing.
He had a liking for horse-racing and frequently gambled huge amount of money in horse-racing.
He was a cocaine-addict which led to his debilitating health and finally his death.