William John Evans was born on August 16, 1926 in Plainfield, New Jersey, and died on September 15, 1980 at the age of 51.
Bill Evans stands as one of the great jazz pianists and composers and most likely the greatest in the post-war, post-bop “cool jazz” era. He joined the Miles Davis sextet in 1958 and performed on Kind of Blue, Miles’ brilliant (and best-selling) album. In 1960, he formed a trio with Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). With this trio, Evans wrote and performed some of the best jazz ever written, culminating with the brilliant Sunday at the Village Vanguard. Tragically, Scott LaFaro was killed in an automobile accidents only ten days after the album was recorded; he was 25 years old.
It is no secret that Evans was a heroin addict and remained an active user of the drug for much of his career, although there were periods where he was able to kick the habit. He continued to record and in 1966 began to work with Eddie Gomez, the bassist. Along with Jack DeJohnette, Gomez and Evans released Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968, which won a Grammy award.
His association with Tony Bennett began in 1975. They decided to tape two albums at the same time. The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album was released in July 1975 and Tony Bennett & Bill Evans Together Again was released in September 1976. It was just Tony and Bill. No other musicians and only Evan’s manager (Helen Keane) and one recording engineer. In The Good Life, Tony relates:
We didn’t want anyone around to distract us. And as the records show, it was a tremendously intimate experience. I hadn’t recorded with just piano since Tony Sings for Two, fifteen years earlier; Bill was accustomed to having a bass and a drummer with him, so both of us were more exposed than usual.
From all reports, the session was remarkable. They come in, throw out a title, and start working on it, improvising and trying different keys, all the time with the tape recorder running as much as possible, though not for all of it (alas). I love the idea of these two musicians getting together, without months of planning upfront, to get together and make music.
The music they made was glorious. And if anyone tries to tell you that Tony Bennett isn’t a jazz singer, on top of everything else, then I suggest they do a careful listen to them. These albums were instant classics and will always be important for both of these musicians.