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Night Lights Classic Jazz

Very Early: Bill Evans, 1956-1958

Bill Evans is one of the most influential pianists in jazz history, renowned for his lyrically seductive style. His early recordings reveal a different sound.

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Bill Evans New Jazz Conceptions

Photo: Album art

Pianist Bill Evans' 1956 debut as a leader, NEW JAZZ CONCEPTIONS.

In the mid-1950s pianist Bill Evans was still a relative unknown, not yet the jazz-piano giant he’d become on the strength of recordings like Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Conversations With Myself.

Evans has had a strong influence on post-1960s jazz pianists—an influence some have found fault with, for certainly Evans had what’s been called a “pastoral-romanticist” bent and a nearly cult-like following, and his later recordings sometimes have a sort of lyrical-stasis quality to them. As a young pianist in the mid-1950s he had a different sound that drew on his early influences from progressive, hardbop, and modernist piano players like Lennie Tristano, Horace Silver, and Bud Powell. He also gave signs of forming an approach that would have been more rhythmically aggressive and attuned to avant-garde inclinations.

Very Early: Bill Evans 1956-58 features the pianist’s recordings as a sideman with musicians like

  • Charles Mingus
  • Tony Scott
  • George Russell (we’ll hear his monumental solo from Russell’s “All About Rosie”)
  • Hal McKusick
  • Eddie Costa
  • a little-known side made with guitarist Joe Puma
  • and a track from Evans’ debut as a leader, New Jazz Conceptions.

For More Bill Evans

Watch Bill Evans with George Russell, Tony Scott, Art Farmer and others on a 1958 episode of “The Subject Is Jazz”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAgaqALyJJ4

Music Heard On This Episode

Concerto for Billy the Kid
George Russell — The Jazz Workshop (Bluebird/Koch, 1956)
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Concerto for Billy the Kid
George Russell — The Jazz Workshop (Bluebird/Koch, 1956)
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Five
Tony Scott — A Day in New York (Fresh Sounds, 1957)
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Jack's Blues
George Russell — The Jazz Workshop (Bluebird/Koch, 1956)
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Stratusphunk
Hal McKusick — Now's the Time (Decca/GRP, 1958)
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Conception
Bill Evans — New Jazz Conceptions (OJC, 1956)
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Everything Happens to Me
Bill Evans/Don Elliott — Tenderly: An Informal Session (Milestone, 2001)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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Conversation
Charles Mingus — East Coasting (Shout Factory, 1957)
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I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good
Joe Puma — The Jazz Guitar of Joe Puma (Fresh Sounds, 1957)
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All About Rosie
George Russell — Birth of the Third Stream (Columbia/Sony, 1957)
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If I Were a Bell
Eddie Costa — Guys and Dolls Like Vibes (Polygram/Verve, 1958)
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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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  • anita stav

    great program celebrating Bill Evans’ 80th birthday.
    thanks so much

  • David Brent Johnson

    Anita, thanks so much, glad you enjoyed it–I’m a fan of all eras Bill, but I’ve long wanted to do a program devoted to all of the interesting recordings he made before joining Miles, forming the trio w/Motian & LaFaro, etc. It could easily have been a two-hour program, if the format allowed it…

  • Alicia

    Hello Mr. Johnson

    I was just searching online on the Duke Ellington revue Jump for Joy. I read at a site that you narrated and wrote a documentary on the show and I wanted to contact you for info. A relative of mine was in the show, her name was Louise Franklin. I’ve been trying to find where I could locate programs, playbills, photos, names of people in the show. A lot of my great-aunt memorabilia has been lost from her performing days and I wonder if any memorabilia of the show exist. I look forward to your reply and I thank you for keeping history alive. I remember my great aunt saying appearing in the show was the highlight of her career. Please do email me. Thanks

  • David Brent Johnson

    Alicia, thanks for the comment–I’ll send you an e-mail shortly. Here’s a link to the Jump For Joy special:

    http://indianapublicmedia.org/nightlights/jump-for-joy-duke-ellingtons-celebratory-musical/

  • JSpark

    Thanks for this excellent look at early Bill Evans. I was particularly surprised to find out how clean and reflective his work was even before achieving popularity. The “rhythm” changes tune called five shocked me with so many so fresh and original comping and solo ideas. Bill always struck me as someone who had very calculated intention and focused conception but he swung damned hard. What a masterful player!

  • JSpark

    Thanks for this excellent look at early Bill Evans. I was particularly surprised to find out how clean and reflective his work was even before achieving popularity. The “rhythm” changes tune called five shocked me with so many so fresh and original comping and solo ideas. Bill always struck me as someone who had very calculated intention and focused conception but he swung damned hard. What a masterful player!

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