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Bill Evans


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This title was selected as a 1998 Notable Book of the Year by the "New York Times Book Review" and was the winner of the 1999 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in the Pop Books Category.

About the Author

Peter Pettinger was an international concert pianist for more than twenty-five years. His many recordings include the Bartok sonatas with the violinist Sandor Vegh, the Elgar sonata and a jazz album with the violinist Nigel Kennedy, and Elgar's works for solo piano.


Pettinger, a concert pianist, offers a sympathetic biography of the seminal jazz pianist/composer Bill Evans (1929-80). Pettinger carefully explains the pianist's merging of classical structure with jazz improvisation for a distinctively understated, lyrical sound. Using secondary sources and material from a handful of interviews, Pettinger describes Evans's emergence as a fledging sideman in New York, his first album as a leader, and his contributions to modal jazz during stints with Miles Davis. Pettinger devotes the last half of the book to the quintessential Evans trio (with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro), Evans's battles with heroin and cocaine, and his gigs and recording sessions with dozens of jazz luminaries until his premature death. Though seldom linking Evans with the larger social context in which jazz became popular during the 1950s and 1960s, Pettinger provides a portrait of Evans that will serve as a foundation for further investigation of this quiet jazz giant. Recommended for jazz fans and music buffs.ÄDavid P. Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle

If anyone deserves a good, accessible jazz biography, it's Bill Evans, the classically trained pianist who bridged the gap between bop and cool jazz and influenced a generation of ivory ticklers. Evans left an indelible stamp on the history of jazz piano, and as a white man in a world populated mostly by black musicians, he merits special consideration. Unfortunately, Pettinger's dessicated analytical biography doesn't do justice to Evan's tumultuous, often brilliant life. The main problem here is that the author, himself an internationally renowned British concert pianist, is more interested in the piano player than in the man. After hitting some of the standard biographical notes (Evans was born in Plainfield, N.J., in 1929; talent for the piano appeared early), Pettinger dispenses with personal insights to such a degree that his book becomes more critical discography than biography. Intimates of Evans aren't described physically or characterized emotionally but are simply wrung dry of their musical content then pushed offstage. Interviews with contemporaries do provide memories of Evans, but they are often banal. In relating a life filled with romantic disappointment, extreme drug abuse and assorted illnesses that contributed to his early death in 1980, Pettinger paints only a pallid portrait of the man behind the music. Yet Pettinger is eminently qualified to assay Evan's evolution as a pianist, and students of Evans's music will no doubt enjoy the author's references to Evans's scores and academic excursions: e.g., "These four-note scale groups move down in thirds (a typical feature of the pianist's right-hand style) and they go five times into each half of the middle eight." In the end, though, fans of Evans's music may be left cold. 40 b&w photos. (Sept.)

"Pettinger understands what sets the pianist apart, and explains with a minimum of technical language and just enough musical transcriptions to get his key points across. . . This is an ideal companion for those who want to 'understand' Evans in the most important way, through listening."-Bob Blumenthal, Boston Globe

"Peter Pettinger writes frankly in his fine new biography of what was no secret to Evans's appalled colleagues: The most influential jazz pianist of the past half-century was addicted to drugs-first heroin, then cocaine-for much of his adult life."-Terry Teachout, New York Times Book Review

"[A] fine new biography . . . packed with . . . shrewd critical commentary."-Terry Teachout, New York Times Book Review

"Peter Pettinger sets out to catalog and explain Evans' wide-ranging genius. . . . The making of every important Evans recording is discussed, and as he follows the extreme ups and downs of a career vexed by heroin addiction and other problems, Pettinger shows how the personal helped shape the artistic sensibility of this jazz innovator."-Tom Moon, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Pettinger . . . has thoroughly researched Evans's life, reading the available literature and tracking down the pianist's associates for commentary, and he has listened assiduously to the Evans catalog, which is no small feat given its enormousness."-Adam Bresnick, Wall Street Journal

"Pettinger provides a portrait of Evans that will serve as a foundation for further investigation of this quiet jazz giant. Recommended for jazz fans and music buffs."-Library Journal

"Pettinger is eminently qualified to assay Evan's evolution as a pianist, and students of Evan's music will no doubt enjoy the author's references to Evan's scores and academic excursions."-Publishers Weekly

"A fine new biography. . . . Pettinger, a concert pianist, is brilliant in describing, with a technical precision which is nonetheless accessible to the non-musician, what Evans was up to. Its a good read."-S.D. Feeney, Face Magazine

"Pettinger's book is a reliable guide, but its chief asset is the late author's insight and enthusiasm for a unique performer."-Brian Priestly, Piano

"One of the great perfectionists of jazz has been given a biography worthy of gifts."-Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

Selected as a 1998 Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review

Winner of the 1999 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in the Pop Books Category

"Peter Pettinger's book on pianist Bill Evans is one of the best jazz biographies I have ever read. It is beautifully and lovingly written, meticulously researched, and filled with deep insight into Evans's personality and musicmaking."-Barry Kernfeld, author of What to Listen for in Jazz

"This book is likely to become a classic. There is nothing quite like it in the history of jazz. A concert pianist looks at the work of a jazz pianist whom many authorities consider one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century. Pettinger hears all sorts of subtleties as only a fellow pianist can. He is also a felicitous and interesting writer. This is a brilliant piece of extended analysis."-Gene Lees

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