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After The Vanguard: The Return Of Bill Evans

In the summer of 1961 Bill Evans hit a new creative peak with his trio. Then the trio's gifted bassist, Scott LaFaro, died in a car wreck. What happened next?

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Bill Evans After Vanguard

Photo: CD cover art

Life after LaFaro: Bill Evans.

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.

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Music Heard On This Episode

I Should Care
Bill Evans — How My Heart Sings (Riverside, 1962)
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I Should Care
Bill Evans — How My Heart Sings (Riverside, 1962)
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My Favorite Things
Mark Murphy — Rah! (Riverside, 1961)

Notes: With Bill Evans on piano.

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Gymnopedie
Herbie Mann — Nirvana (Atlantic, 1962)

Notes: Satie composition. With Bill Evans on piano, Chuck Israels on bass, Paul Motian on drums.

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Why Not?
Dave Pike — Pike's Peak (Portrait, 1961)

Notes: With Bill Evans on piano.

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Our Delight
Tadd Dameron — The Magic Touch (Riverside, 1962)

Notes: With Bill Evans on piano.

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Gloria's Step
Bill Evans — Live in Paris, 1965 (Lonehill, 1962)

Notes: Feb. 1962 broadcast from Birdland in NYC.

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Danny Boy
Bill Evans — Time Remembered (Milestone, 1962)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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In Your Own Sweet Way
Bill Evans — Time Remembered (Milestone, 1962)

Notes: Solo piano recording of Dave Brubeck composition.

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Dream Gypsy
Bill Evans/Jim Hall — Undercurrent (Blue Note, 1962)
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Everything I Love
Bill Evans — How My Heart Sings (Riverside, 1962)

Notes: With Chuck Israels on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

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Re: Person I Knew
Bill Evans — Moonbeams (Riverside, 1962)

Notes: With Chuck Israels on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

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Very Early
Bill Evans — Moonbeams (Riverside, 1962)

Notes: With Chuck Israels on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • http://www.toetappingticklers.com Asheville wedding jazz band

    We have been working on some Bill Evans tunes. It’s cool how complex they are but they flow so well.

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