Writings about Music

Changing Perspective

Bill Evans

Really all the time, music I loved early on remains a great love. That's why it's so odd my changing feelings about Bill Evans who I have praised to the heavens in the past.

Rollan Masciarelli once puzzled me by claiming Bill Evans wasn't a good jazz pianist. What Rollan must have meant is that he personally didn't enjoy the way Evans played. I don't recall Rollan giving a specific reason for his opinion. When asked who he preferred, Mr. Masciaralli offered Hampton Hawes, someone I'm still not that familiar with, having not been moved to look deeper into his playing as of yet.

But now I believe I know what Rollan's misgivings were, if they happen to coincide with what I am about to say.

Bill Evans is now sounding melodramatic, sentimental, overwrought, and heavy-handed to me - it's that simple. My preference for jazz piano has overwhelmingly become Red Garland and Lennie Tristano.

The qualities I have issue with seem to have taken hold mostly in the second half of Bill's career. Mannerisims I previously found captivating and musical now mostly irritate. I've heard how he had added cocaine to his opiate addiction, and one wonders if that powerful stimulant had any bearing.

The very limited and repetitive nature of the songs Evans plays is also detrimental, especially when some of them are not that great to begin with.

My favorite recordings of Bill Evans have been the ones with Miles Davis, several with Eliot Zigmund, and his solo albums, including Conversations With Myself. In general, I prefer his earlier work, with the exception of the You Must Believe In Spring and Affinity albums. My misgivings here definitely do not apply to how Bill plays on Kind of Blue, quite the contrary. He playing, of course, changed drastically from that effort. There isn't time to go through a blow by blow analysis of various albums that do not apply to my objections, but hopefully my overall point has been communicated effectively.

Come to think of it, not that I rely upon others to second my opinions, but none other than Miles Davis concurred with me, stating how his favorite playing of Bill Evans was by far when he was with the trumpeter.

Eliot Zigmund told me how Bill was fanatical about playing the same songs with particular arrangements. I wish he had been more spontaneous selecting songs, and showed a wider range.

It doesn't help that so many musicians have imitated the jazz piano style of Bill Evans, which seems to have a more accessible appeal to those with casual knowledge and experience with jazz, as well as connoisseurs, myself being a connoisseur who loved the way he played for years prior to my more recent disenchantment. 

At the same time, I will always be profoundly grateful to Bill Evans for making a deep impression upon me to develop a personal style of jazz piano rather than imitating himself or others, together with being an ultimate favorite jazz artist from my beginnings with jazz. And it's entirely possible my feelings for his playing will change again, perhaps. Again, I am perplexed why my opinion of his playing has changed so dramatically, but answering my own question, I still do admire his earlier work in general.

Evans did express a troubling ignorance of rock, but that is pretty common among jazz musicians of his generation together with the general public of that generation.

Part of my evolved perspective may simply be because I'm now a jazz pianist myself, and thus have stronger, more personal feelings about how to play the piano, and how to improvise using standards.

It is unfortunate the dumbed-down programming of the local jazz station here that plays Bill Evans endlessly, but never ever Lennie Tristano, and quite astoundingly, rarely if ever the trio recordings of Red Garland, which are my personal favorite in the genre. I guess they just believe their listeners are stupid and are more of a commercial enterprise despite being hosted by a university.

- Michael Robinson, February 2023, Los Angeles


© 2023 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


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Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 198 albums include 151 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.