William John Evans was born in Plainfield, New Jersey on August 16, 1929. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time, and is considered by some to have been the most influential post-World War II jazz pianist Evans's use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, block chords, and trademark rhythmically independent, "singing" melodic lines continue to influence jazz pianists today. Unlike many other jazz musicians of his time, Evans never embraced new movements like jazz fusion or free jazz.
Born Evans was classically trained, and studied at Southeastern Louisiana University. In 1955, he moved to New York, where he worked with bandleader and theorist George Russell. In 1958, Evans joined Miles Davis's sextet, where he was to have a profound influence. In 1959, the band, then immersed in modal jazz, recorded Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time.
In late 1959, Evans left the Miles Davis band and began his career as a leader with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, a group now regarded as a seminal modern jazz trio. In 1961, ten days after recording the highly acclaimed Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby, LaFaro died in a car accident. After months of seclusion, Evans re-emerged with a new trio, featuring bassist Chuck Israels.
In 1963, Evans recorded Conversations with Myself, an innovative solo album using the unconventional (in jazz solo recordings) technique of overdubbing over himself. In 1966, he met bassist Eddie Gomez, with whom he would work for eleven years. Several successful albums followed, such as Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Alone and The Bill Evans Album, among others. In 1973, he married Nenette Zazzarra, with whom he had a son, Evan. The younger Evans would become a film composer.
Despite his success as a jazz artist, Evans suffered personal loss and struggled with drug abuse. Both his girlfriend Elaine and his brother Harry committed suicide, and he was a long time heroin user, and later cocaine. As a result, his financial stability, personal relationships and musical creativity suffered until his death, in 1980.
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