Evans Above, Happy St. Patrick’s Day

In honour of St. Patrick's Day, embedded below is my favourite version of “Danny Boy” ever, a 1962 solo piano reading by Bill Evans. Evans was from Welsh stock on his father’s side and Russian on his mother’s, an interesting combination reflected in his playing, which was both romantic and intellectual. I thought I knew how great a pianist Evans was until I heard this track about fifteen or twenty years after first encountering him. It made me realize he was even better than I'd thought, which I wouldn't have considered possible. There are a lot of ways to go about it, but jazz piano just can't be played any better than this. The crystalline sound and pearly touch, the gorgeous, crunchy chord voicings, the long, spring-loaded lines and tensile rhythm, the lyricism, the way he makes the piano sing, the poetry of it all - it's just breathtaking. And to think he wasn't even Irish - smile. In the end though, after all the analysis and attempts to describe Bill's playing, perhaps his agent-to-be Helen Keane said it best when she first heard him: "Oh no, this one's going to break my heart." Even more impressively, this "Danny Boy" was a throw-away done on a solo session that was never meant for release, but rather intended to pull Bill out of the deep, paralyzing depression he fell into after Scott La Faro was killed in a car crash at 25. It reminds me of something I experienced at a Modigliani exhibition a few years ago at the AGO. Along with his many famous portraits more [...]