I’ve enjoyed Pettinger’s unpretentious study of Evans’ life and music as much as any comparable jazz title that comes to mind. The British author admits that he never met Bill Evans and has little to offer in the way of exclusive, privileged information about a subject whose personal habits might tempt lesser writers to manufacture salacious prose along with much amateur psychoanalyzing.
Having lowered the expectations, Pettinger proceeds to give a personal biography of the man and chronological account of the musical career that is ultimately a remarkably illuminating portrait of a jazz artist.
Admittedly, the book is essential reading primarily for the listener who already counts himself among Evans’ admirers and is aware of the pianist’s artistry and influence. More than likely, such a reader will find many of his suspicions validated–from the pianist’s rigorous classical training to his self-effacing personality to his discomfort as a member of Miles Davis’ Quintet to his creative rejuvenation during the last year and months of his life. In addition, he will undoubtedly discover, on practically every page, something unexpected–Evans’ affinity for Russian language and culture (clearly demonstrated on the pianist’s brooding, darkly dramatic, extended introductions to “Nardis”), his curious attraction to garish ’70’s clothing styles, his strange personal and musical relationship with “speed” buddy Philly Joe Jones.
Pettinger knows enough about music, pianos, and piano playing to insure that his discussion of the music is accessible and instructive without becoming erudite or pedantic. Although it would be, in my opinion, impossible to overstate the influence, sophistication, and singular beauty of Evans’ music, Pettinger wisely does not try to do so. The definitive work on the extraordinary moment in music history for which Evans is responsible remains to be written. But Pettinger’s book is certainly a worthy start. And the plentiful discography is clearly presented and annotated–in itself worth the price of the book to any collector of Evans’ extraordinary recorded legacy.
By Samuel Chell
Last modified: July 15, 2018