Born in Clarendon Hills, Illinois on February 9, 1958, Bill Evans started on piano before switching to clarinet and saxophone. He played classical piano concerts at age 16 and after one year of studying music at North Texas State University he transferred to William Paterson College in New Jersey in 1978 and also began private studies with sax great and former Miles Davis sideman, Dave Liebman. After graduating and through Liebman’s recommendation, he was tapped by Miles in 1980 to play a key role in Miles’ celebrated comeback band. Bill was instrumental in helping Miles put together this band, introducing Miles to Marcus Miller, Mike Stern and John Scofield. Bill became Miles’ right-hand man and soloistic foil in concert and on a series of recordings: 1981’s “The Man With The Horn”, 1982’s Grammy Award winning “We Want Miles”, 1983’s “Star People” and 1984’s “Decoy”.
After leaving Davis’ band in 1984, Evans joined John McLaughlin in a reconstituted edition of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, because guitar master McLaughlin decided to reincarnate his Orchestra and selected Evans as the first reed player in the history of the group. The group toured and stayed on the road for much of the years between 1984 and 1986 touring Europe, the Far East and the United States. By the end of 1986 Evans had recorded two albums with John “Mahavishnu” (1985) and “Adventures in Radioland” (1987).
Following his stint with McLaughlin, he recorded and toured with friends in the RCA group Elements. He was a charter member of the band Elements, formed by bassist Mark Egan and drummer Danny Gottlieb.
Aside from focusing on his own band, Bill is very selective in his collaborations with other artists, choosing to indulge only in music that inspires him.
The Headhunters tour with Herbie Hancock in the summer of 1989 was one such group. The line-up included Darryl Jones on bass, Ndugu Chancler on drums, Wah Wah Watson on guitar and Mino Cinelu on percussion. Hancock described Evans’ playing as a “painter with remarkable sensitivity and feeling”.
During the spring of 1997, Bill appeared as a special guest with guitarist Lee Ritenours’ tour of the US, where Bill was featured as a guest on Lees’ release “Alive in L.A.” He also performed with Gil Evans, Dave Cruisin, Mick Jagger and former Police guitarist Andy Summers to name a few.
More recently, Evans has toured Europe and the States with the Soulbop Band, which he co-leads with trumpeter Randy Brecker.
Evans debuted as a leader in 1985 with “Alternative Man” on Blue Note and has also recorded as a leader for the Lipstick label. In all of these projects throughout his career, he has demonstrated an adventurous spirit, tremendous rhythmic flow and strong improvising skills both on tenor and soprano saxes.
Throughout the ‘90s, he led his own groups and recorded albums under his own name, including 1992’s live fusion outing “Petite Blonde” (featuring drummer Dennis Chambers, bassist Victor Bailey, keyboardist Mitch Forman and guitarist Chuck Loeb), 1993 following the release of hip-hop flavored “Push”. During one of Bills’ tours in 1994 with “Push” Bill recorded its companion piece “Live In Europe”, which critics hailed as “the most ingenious blend of Hip-Hop and Jazz out there”. Bill featured rappers in the band.
Evans debuted with ESC Records in 1995 with the hard-edged hip-hop jazz project “Escape”. It featured Lee Ritenour, Marcus Miller, Wallace Roney to name a few and was Bills’ 9th CD as a leader. “Escape” was a favorite on contemporary radio and reached the top of the contemporary jazz charts as well as urban radio. Bill received his first German Jazz-Award for this CD.
The Japanese have shown a strong liking to Bills’ talents and have graced their jazz calendars and magazine covers with his picture along with ranking him near the top of their popularity polls. As writer Takao Ogawa wrote after one of Bills’ performances “the music that the Bill Evans Group played was a free, marvelous combination of power and sensitive beauty”.
Then he offered a change of pace in 1997 with “Starfish and the Moon”, a collection of relaxed, evocative melodies that marked a new direction for the composer.
His 1999 recording, “Touch” was a mix of laidback melodies and go-for-broke jams.
It was written, arranged and produced by Bill and featured many of the performers from his Escape CD including Wallace Roney, Lee Ritenour, Vinny Colaiuta, etc…
And in 2000, Evans is hitting it hard and staying solidly grounded on the goodfoot with Grammy nominated “Soul Insider”, his funkiest offering to date, which featured a guest appearance by soul-jazz legend Les McCann. In March 2001 he received his second German Jazz-Award for this soulful “Allstar-album”. He followed up that success with 2003’s groove-oriented “Big Fun”, which featured a cameo spot by country star Willie Nelson.
In 2005, BHM Records released the exhilarating “Soul Bop Band Live” album, which captured the all-star group fronted by Evans and Randy Brecker and featuring drummer steve Smith, guitarist Hiram Bullock, bassist Victor Bailey and pianist Dave Kikoski in full stride during a whirlwind summer tour in 2004. His daring collaboration with Bela Fleck and Nashville session aces Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan and Jerry Douglas on Soulgrass is Bill’s latest exploration in an ever-evolving career.
Author: Bill Milkowski