Waltz For Debby by Bill Evans

November 25, 2010

Bill Evans, August 16, 1929–September 15, 1980, is regarded as one of the best and most influential jazz pianists of all time. The apex of his work was the four albums he recorded as the Bill Evans Trio with bassist Scott Lafaro and drummer Paul Motian.

They expanded both the jazz trio concept through their interplay and individual solos, plus the use of the piano as an interactive jazz instrument. Evans would almost deconstruct a song through his skill at the piano. They would set a standard that many jazz artists would follow in the future.

Waltz For Debby was one of two albums recorded at the Village Vanguard on June 25, 1961, during a five-set performance. It was the last release by his original trio as Lafaro was killed in a car accident less than two weeks after its appearance.

Waltz For Debby remains a Bill Evans classic and a milestone in the history of jazz music. Released during late 1961, it now returns as a part of The Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Masters Series. The sound is crystal clear and five bonus tracks have been added.

While three are different takes of the album’s original songs, they remain interesting for the subtle differences that appear. “Discussing Repertoire” is only 30 seconds long and could have been eliminated. The gem is “Porgy (I Love You),” which at over six minutes presents the trio in all their interactive glory.

The original liner notes are included, which are always welcome. The written gem of the set is the four-page essay about the performance by 87-year-old Orrin Keepnews, who was one of the founders of the Riverside label on which the album was originally released. He was at the performance and was the producer for the album 49 years ago.

The title track was a musical portrait of his niece. It appeared as a short piano performance on his 1956 debut album. It returned on this album in a filled out, elongated form and would become his signature song.

“My Foolish Heart” was a pop standard that first saw life in the film of the same name where it earned an Oscar nomination. Evans would turn it into a slow tempo jazz number, a style which would be covered by generations of jazz artists that followed.

Evans was a member of The Miles Davis Sextet for eight months and while their time together was short, it would be productive for both. Evans covers Davis’ famous “Milestones.” He twists and turns the song through the use of the trio’s three instruments but is always true to its intent.

The career of Bill Evans would come to a tragic conclusion at the age of 51. His longtime use of heroin and cocaine caused his body to finally give out. He is buried in Rose Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Baron Rouge, Louisiana.

Waltz For Debby remains a classic Bill Evans release and a center piece in the history of American jazz.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org