Bill Evans: Solo Sessions 1963 - JazzWax

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November 12, 2008


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Ed Leimbacher

there's one tune that might have been perfect for Evans' multi-layered self-musings at the keyboard--which i can't remember ever hearing him do, anyway--and that's "Alone (Together)." or maybe it was too obvious a pun?

Rob Rijneke

A comment of Bill Evans about solo playing to Len Lyons in "Down Beat", march 1976: "It's the best practise in the world for a pianist. I wish I could play a solo gig for about a year; but I am more interested in the trio, and to keep it together I have to keep it working. My conception of solo playing is a music that moves, let's say a more rhapsodic conception that has interludes of straight-ahead jazz. It would be a more orchestral conception, moving very freely between keys and moods. In other words, things you can't do with a group. That's the added dimension."

Rob Rijneke

Bill Evans' last-known solo tracks during the interview with Marian McPartland on the "Piano Jazz" album (1978). In this NPR radio show, Bill made two comments about playing solo piano: first, it's exceedingly challenging and therefore more satisfying than performing in a trio; second, he has never felt himself equal to the task.


I'm listening to the Solo Sessions right now and I have to agree with you. They are exquisite, and possibly my favorite Bill Evans ever. He just sounds like he's in a zone, choosing exactly the right notes and the right phrasing.


Quite recently, I was overwhelmed by the subtle greatness of these two records after owning them for about a year. The experience was exactly as it was described in this excellent article, but I also discovered something else that I haven't heard anyone talk about yet.

I was playing the piano along with the song "Ornithology" in my iPod's earplugs, quite loud so I could hear Bill well. While listening closely, it's clear that they recorded more than just one track per song. For example at 1:34 on "Ornithology", what seems to be the comping familiar from other "solo" albums appears faintly in the background.

Why is it that they would release songs that were based on overdubbing without the "conversations"? It's like deleting the bass part from "Sunday At The Village Vanguard" and calling it a piano/drums duo album. I don't necessarily believe it creates bad music, but it is an odd choice for a perfectionist genious like Bill Evans.


I don't have the Ornithology recording, but would like to point out a couple of things about magnetic tape. First, in storage part of a recording can be faintly transferred to an earlier part of the tape. Secondly, when recording over a previous take, if the heads aren't perfectly aligned the prior recording may not be completely erased. It seems likely that if there had been overdubs, Keepnews would have commented on it.


I just chanced on your site and this article via a somewhat random Google search. Great article! I'd figured I was familiar with Evans' early recorded output, but I was unaware of these sessions. (I thought Manne=Hole was his final effort for Riverside.) I'll now track these down.... Thanks!

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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