After jazz journalist Gene Lees heard Bill Evans for the first time, he told the pianist that his recordings “sounded like love letters written to the world from some prison of the heart.” Lees was just one of many to feel such an emotional connection with Evans’ playing, which inspired a cult-like following that continues to this day. The group that he formed in 1959 with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian helped set the template for the modern jazz trio, and the albums they made–particularly the live Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard–have become jazz classics.
But this group came to an abrupt end shortly after those albums were recorded, when LaFaro died at the age of 25 in an automobile accident. LaFaro’s passing was personally and professionally devastating for Evans. “After LaFaro’s death, Bill was like a man with a lost love, always looking to find its replacement,” Gene Lees later wrote. For a few months he stopped playing the piano and withdrew from the jazz scene, also sinking deeper into a drug habit that LaFaro had tried to get him to quit.
Orrin Keepnews, who had been producing Evans for the Riverside label, finally managed to coax him back into the studio for an appearance on vocalist Mark Murphy’s album Rah. We’ll hear music from that record as well as recordings that Evans made with flutist Herbie Mann, vibraphonist Dave Pike, and composer Tadd Dameron–in addition to a rare live February 1962 broadcast of Evans’ new trio ( featuring Motian and bassist Chuck Israels), Evans’ spring 1962 collaboration with guitarist Jim Hall, and music from the pianist’s “official” return to the scene, the trio albums Moonbeams and How My Heart Sings.
More About Bill Evans
- Very Early: Bill Evans 1956-58 (previous Night Lights program)
- Jazz blogger Marc Myers on Evans in 1962
- Doug Ramsey reports on a newly-available trove of Evans information
- Watch Evans’ new trio performing “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “Blue in Green” in 1962: