Bill Evans • Jazz Piano Solos

Products featured on Pianodao are selected for review by ANDREW EALES.

Hal Leonard’s outstanding Jazz Piano Solos series of collections, featuring the ace arrangements of Brent Edstrom, has clocked up more than 60 volumes, showcasing music from Berlin to Bossa, from Cocktail to Coltrane.

With differing licensing rules and rights issues from one country to another however, not all are available beyond the US. As a fan of iconic jazz pianist Bill Evans, I am particularly delighted by the long-awaited arrival on these shores of Volume 19; published back in 2011, but only recently cleared for the UK market, the collection boasts 24 momentous classics from the catalogue the redefined jazz piano playing…

‘Everything Happens to Me’…

Ask any jazz aficionado or pianist who their favourite players and influences are, and Bill Evans’ name will undoubtedly appear in the list of the all-time greats.

Born in New Jersey in 1929, Evans was classically trained (and those roots are often among the distinguishing characteristics of his style) before pursuing his love of jazz and rising to fame as a member of the 1958 Miles Davis sextet. The following year he worked with Davis again, contributing to the all-time best-seller Kind of Blue.

Soon, Evans had carved an equally impressive celebrity status of his own, issuing a string of seminal recordings that included such great albums as Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Explorations, Now My Heart Sings!, Undercurrent and Conversations With Myself.

Evans had achieved an iconic status that influenced the generation of jazz pianists who followed in his wake. His explorations extending jazz harmony to include classical and modal influences marked a turning point in jazz, and when combined with his quiet personality, introspective approach, and gift for flowing melodic invention, he earned himself the nickname “The Chopin of Jazz”.

Evans continued to record and perform as a soloist, trio leader and sideman (another highlight being his collaboration with Tony Bennett in the mid 1970’s), but his later years were increasingly blighted by drug addiction and declining health. He died in 1980, having sunk into a deep depression and, the previous year, voluntarily declined treatment for hepatitis.

‘In A Sentimental Mood’…

Volume 19 in the Jazz Piano Solos library is a 98-page book printed on white paper, with a stiff, but fairly flexible spine and gloss card cover:

Aside from the contents page, the book has no extra frills; the music itself begins on page two. The arrangements range from three to five pages, and deliver the following song list:

  • Alice In Wonderland
  • Autumn Leaves
  • But Beautiful
  • Emily
  • Everything Happens to Me
  • Goodbye
  • Here’s That Rainy Day
  • How Deep Is The Ocean (How High Is The Sky)
  • In a Sentimental Mood
  • In Love In Vain
  • Letter To Evan
  • My Foolish Heart
  • My Heart Stood Still
  • Night and Day
  • Peri’s Scope
  • A Sleepin’ Bee
  • Some Day My Prince Will Come
  • Spartacus: Love Theme
  • Spring Is Here
  • Suicide Is Painless (from M*A*S*H)
  • Tenderly
  • Up With The Lark
  • Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)
  • Witchcraft

This is a wonderful selection, although with such a huge catalogue of classic recordings to his name it’s rather inevitable that some of Evans’ best known pieces didn’t make the cut: Waltz for Debbie and Peace Piece will be particularly missed.

Edstrom’s arrangements are always a marvel, and here as ever they are entirely on point, capturing Evans’ unique harmonic language and chord voicing perfectly. As is usual with this series, they will suit notation-reading jazzers whose playing level is around UK Grade 8 and above.

For those keen to analyse the harmonic language that is such a part of the Evans’ sound, chord symbols are included above the staves; these are expectedly of a more advanced, complex configuration than many will be used to however!

‘How Deep is the Ocean’…

Given the many times Evans recorded most of these pieces, it is natural that Edstrom relies on a composite that captures the key elements of Evans’ playing. These are not transcriptions of specific sessions.

Anyone looking for those can be pointed towards another recent series, also highly recommended: Hal Leonard’s “Omnibooks” deliver exact transcriptions of recorded solos, and for pianists the series so far encompasses Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson. These are huge books; to give you an idea, the Bill Evans Omnibook includes 40 songs transcribed across 360 pages.

I have to admit that the Omnibooks won’t for now be joining the Pianodao Music Library, being beyond my present jazz expertise and ambitions! Having taken a look, however, I can still happily recommend these as truly outstanding resources: the accomplished jazz pianist studying at a higher level will undoubtedly find them invaluable.

‘My Heart Stood Still’…

For the majority of advanced pianists wanting to explore and play jazz in a variety of styles, the Jazz Piano Solos series remains my top recommendation, and it’s wonderful to have the Bill Evans volume in the UK at last.

Quite how Brent Edstrom does it, I can only guess, but he’s done it again! This is simply a stunning collection: I can recommend it warmly and without reservation.

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.

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