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Bill Evans The Man with the Other Horn

When Miles decided to come off a nearly seven year hiatus two decades ago to put together his "final" super band, a then unknown Bill Evans was chosen for the tenor/soprano chair as a foil to Davis' often-somber trumpet. As always, Miles was picky. It wasn't just anyone he'd allow to share his stage night after night. Though there are unreleased Columbia recordings throughout the mid 70's and into 1980, he went through quite a few lineups that were created for him to which he'd usually only listen, rarely inspired to actually take out his horn. It wasn't until the group consisted of Evans, Mike Stern, Marcus Miller, Mino Cinelu and Miles' former drummer Al Foster that Davis felt like returning to the road.

For most of Miles' sidemen, having worked with him (from a career perspective) is in other circles tantamount to a nod from the Pope. Most of the current list of who's who in jazz, trace their lineage to Miles, either directly or influentially. Aside from past icons like 'Trane and pianist Bill Evans, those such as Hancock, Jarrett, Corea, Zawinal, Shorter, Dejohnette, Williams, Carter, Liebman, Holland and McGlaughlin continue to carry and pass on the leadership and creativity they learned in and from Davis' numerous stellar groups.

Evan's latest group, The Soul Insiders has just released a new disc aptly entitled "Soul Insider," with special guests Les McCann, Steve Jordan, and Miles’ alums, John Scofield and Don Alias.

In Evans’ own words from his bio: "My new CD titled ‘Soul Insider’ was recorded May/June of this year on ESC records (2000). This CD was nothing but pure fun for me to make. I wrote, produced and arranged the CD and recorded it live with everyone in the studio playing together (what a concept, huh?). With just a few exceptions, the CD ‘Soul Insider’ is a combination soul and funk and whatever else you want to call it. Steve Jordan played some unbelievable grooves and Les McCann sang a couple songs we wrote together that are on the same vibe of his classic ‘Swiss Movement’ CD. Everyone on the CD played great and grooved very hard. Many thanks to all of them and Joachim Becker of ESC records for really making it happen. This was the first time myself and John Scofield played together since we played in Miles Davis group back in 1983!"

JazzReview: What were your original influences?

Bill Evans: "When I was a very young, eight to twelve years old, my father was playing me Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and Benny Goodman. When I started to play the sax I started listening to Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane."

JazzReview: Can you talk about your experience of being with Miles? What did you learn from him being in that particular group of players at that time in his and your career?

Bill Evans: "I learned to be myself. That was most important. We were good friends on and off the bandstand, so I had a good idea what he thought about life, music, etc. at that particular time. He was himself all the time and believed in going with your instincts no matter how strange they may be at the time and, they were at times! I mean, musically, don't be afraid to try different musical ideas you have, no matter how strange you think they may be. To just keep searching for that sound you hear in your head until it becomes a reality. He was lucky to have the music community’s ear when he wanted to try something out. He was very good at finding the right musicians for the ideas he wanted to express."

JazzReview: Yeah, and a very important skill. Instinct makes us all unique. What gigs were most memorable?

Bill Evans: "Playing the first gig at the Kix Club in Boston and Avery Fisher Hall in New York the following week. I will never forget the intensity. We were all very nervous because we had no idea what was going to happen on stage. It was great."

JazzReview: I remember those gigs (four nights, I think) and had just gotten to Berklee. It was right down the street from my place in Kenmore Square on Comm. Ave. What about the McGlaughlin gigs?

Bill Evans: "It was a great transition for me following Miles’ gig with John there, more chords and music to play, which at the time I was ready to play. Miles’ gig was mostly modal...one chord stuff. John really pushed me musically every night with his virtuosity. You cannot slack off playing with John."

JazzReview: You and Stern go way back, even before Miles. Can you discuss your work together?

Bill Evans: "I first heard Stern in Boston when he was doing a weekend sideman gig with Dave Liebman in 1980. I was already hanging out with Miles when Miles asked me if I knew any guitar players. I took Miles to see Mike who happen to be playing in New York with Bill Cobhams' band. Miles liked him. We worked together in different bands in the early 80's. We haven't played together since then, although we do keep in touch. We talk. I keep in touch with Mike. We are both out there touring with bands, so we have a lot in common by playing with many of the same musicians at different times."

JazzReview: You also worked with Scofield in Miles' group and again most recently on your latest release. How was it to be back playing together again after all that time?

Bill Evans: "I have always been a fan of Johns' playing. It is always a pleasure to play with him."

JazzReview: I remember a packed clinic in the mid 80's you gave at Berklee, where you played an unaccompanied soprano for about 45-minutes. That was really inspiring. How was your experience at Berklee, and also doing clinics and teaching?

Bill Evans: "I enjoy working with students because I am a life long student myself. You never master the instrument. You always just strive to get better. If I can give a little inspiration and positive feedback to someone, it makes me feel great. I want to do more clinics and teaching in the future. I am not able to do as much as I would like."

JazzReview: There are two records you did live at the Bluenote in Tokyo that are really amazing. As good as they are, it seemed like they didn’t get the press they deserved. What happened after those came out?

Bill Evans: "They were done on a small Japanese label (JazzCity). There was never going to be any major press on them. I think they did come out sounding great though. People still talk about them, so I guess some people have heard them."

JazzReview: How do you go about writing new music? Do you use piano and/or picture the specific players?

Bill Evans: "I use a piano and a small MIDI set-up at my home studio. When the song is done, I think about who would be the right musicians to play it."

JazzReview: Any specific techniques you might try?

Bill Evans: "No hard work!"

JazzReview: What do you do for inspiration and is it enjoyable for you to write?

Bill Evans: "I love writing and I hate it. When it flows easily, I love it. When it seems difficult, I would rather rake leaves."

JazzReview: (laughs) I'd really like to hear about the new record. You're using vocals (Les McCann) and doing some of the lyric writing yourself? How did that come about?

Bill Evans: "When doing a soul or whatever kind of CD, I like to use vocals on a few tracks. Lyric writing? We'll see."

JazzReview: Have you ever gotten mistaken for Bill Evans, the pianist, and what were the circumstances?

Bill Evans: "Not really...only in record stores. In the beginning, people would confuse me with Bill Evans the piano player when they saw the marquis and it said ‘The Bill Evans Quartet,’ but that only happened a couple of times. When I was 16, I played piano in a jazz trio in bars outside of Chicago and that would sometimes get interesting. The sign would say jazz piano by the ‘Bill Evans Trio’ and they would see a young kid at the piano. In general, most people would not forget my name because it was already a famous name when I started getting interested in jazz. My father’s name was also Bill Evans. It happens to be one of the most common names in America. There are usually many of them in every city. It is as common as Smith or Jones."

JazzReview: In your bio it mentions fishing of all things. How long have you been doing that and do you feel it helps with what you do?

Bill Evans: "I have been fishing since I was too small to remember. I hope it helps the music because when I fish, I don't think about the music at all...so I guess it does."

JazzReview: What has been the effect of the events of 9/11 on you and those you know in New York’s music community?

Bill Evans: "It just gives us more inspiration to play music. People need a divergence from all of the hate in the world and music can help pacify feelings of stress and fear. We will actually try to play even more."

JazzReview: What's next for you and the group?

Bill Evans: "I will record a new CD in January. I haven't decided with whom yet. I will tour this May, July, and September in Europe...where I usually play."

JazzReview: Do you have any notable side projects in the works?

Bill Evans: "I am going to work again with Mark Egan and Cliff Carter, and Dennis Chambers on another...stuff like that. I guest with Willy Nelson every now and then. That is always fun. The way I look at it, the most important CD I play on is my own."

JazzReview: And the most personal, too. Thanks for your time and all the best.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bill Evans
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