This great piano genius was born in New Jersey, in 1929. He passed away in 1980 from health complications related to his hepatitis and his cocaine drug abuse, in what was described by a close colleague as “the longest suicide in history”.
At the height of his career, Evans was as emblematic to jazz and his instrument (piano) as Miles Davis was to the movement and trumpet playing.
He is seen as the main reformer of the harmonic language of jazz piano and was influenced by impressionist composers such as Debussy and Ravel. His versions of jazz standards, as well as his own compositions, always featured thorough changes to their original harmonies. Musical features included added tone chords, modal inflections, unconventional substitutions, and modulations.
Above is an example of Evans’s harmonies. The chords feature extensions like 9ths and 13ths, are laid around middle C, have smooth voice leading, and leave the root to the bassist. Bridge of the first chorus of Waltz for Debby (mm.33-36). From the homonymous album of 1961.
One of Evans’s distinctive harmonic traits is abandoning the inclusion of the root in his chords, leaving this work to the bassist, played on another beat of the measure, or just left implied. “If I am going to be sitting here playing roots, fifths and full voicings, the bass is relegated to a time machine.” This idea had already been explored by Ahmad Jamal, Erroll Garner, and Red Garland. In Evans’s system, the chord is expressed as a quality identity and a color. Most of Evans’s harmonies feature added note chords or quartal voicings.
Thus, Evans created a self-sufficient language for the left hand, a distinctive voicing, that allowed the transition from one chord to the next while hardly having to move the hand. With this technique, he created an effect of continuity in the central register of the piano. Laying around middle C, in this region the harmonic clusters sounded the clearest, and at the same time, left room for contrapunctal independence with the bass. Evans’s improvisations relied heavily in motivic development, either melodically or rhythmically.Motives may be broken and recombined to form melodies. Another characteristic of Evans’s style is rhythmic displacement. His melodic contours often describe arches.Other characteristics include sequenciation of melodies and transforming one motive into another.”
Beyond his brilliance as a pianist and musician, and his technical excellence, Evans managed to imbue his music with a such warmth and melancholy that listening to him playing, even today, generates a deep emotional vibration.
This new work of mine, from 2013 and simply called “An afternoon with Mr. Evans” is one more of the many jazz and Evans inspired works in my own artistic repertoire.
I leave you while I hope you enjoy these next few minutes listening of this genius playing live in 1972 .
See you next time.
©Copyright 2014 Ignacio Alperin