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Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings Paperback – September 1, 2002

4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Perhaps it was a white jazz musician's need to negate his very ordinary American boyhood, or maybe it was in the genes he inherited from his alcoholic father--no one can be quite sure--but Bill Evans, one of the most influential American jazz pianists ever, was a drug addict. He picked up his habit shortly after joining the Miles Davis Sextet in the 1950s, but it took Evans more than 20 years to be swallowed by the abyss of heroin, methadone, and cocaine. Sitting at the piano in the shadow of Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones--the era's paragons of cool--could not have been easy for the retiring musician who suffered harsh ribbing at the hands of both bandmates and fans. Ironically, as the drugs distorted Evans's body and soul, his fingers coaxed ever more sublime music from his keyboard. Biographer Peter Pettinger was himself a professional pianist and a longtime listener of Evans, so he is expert at articulating the nuances of the music. He is perceptive too in exploring the forces that imbued in one life so much beauty and so much pain. The result is a book that is both a memorial to a burdened man and an homage to his transcendent music. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Nota Bene
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300097271
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300097276
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. R. Fontana on February 22, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a jazz pianist who has studied Evans' music for nearly 40 years, it always struck me how Bill Evans could start out his career with such musical curiosity, adventure and brilliance, only to settle into a long period of simply going through the motions. And while Bill Evans going through the motions is still a beautiful thing, now I know why. We all knew Bill Evans was a junkie, but somehow dealing with it on an everyday basis in this book puts it all into perspective. Bill Evans started out straight, so straight that he didn't turn to drugs until he was already in the spotlight in Miles Davis' group (in contrast to someone like Stan Getz who was into it from his earliest gigs). But unlike Davis and Getz, who had longer periods of sobriety to clean up their act and renew their approach to their craft, Bill Evans did not.
The result is a flash of light that glows into the mid sixties, but then dies out in a sea of repetition, hemming in his style into a smaller and smaller box as he went along. We see the mind of an intelligent, educated man, drawing on his classical influences to create a unique voice; we see perhaps his initial exposure to drugs producing a shimmering impressionistic sound that is forever recognizable, and then we see it all wear off into a self imposed life sentence, cutting off his imagination, if not all of his feelings. Bill Evans did not take care of himself, and for that we are all worse off. That he could die partially of malnutrition just underscores the very sad point.
One does see a curiously ascetic individual-drug abuse notwithstanding-who simply doesn't seem to care about much other than his art (as he states in his video, The Universal Mind of Bill Evans).
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Format: Hardcover
I have always been an admirer of Bill Evans work. I am a musician and have spent many hours at the Village Vanguard and Village Gate in NYCity listening to his music. In 1979 I had the pleasure of interviewing him for a radio show I did in Stamford,Ct on WYRS. As a bassist I have learned from many of his recorded works and marveled and respected Scott LaFaro's work with his 'First Trio". When I began reading the book I was both amazed and pleased that Mr. Pettinger was a musician and decided to approach the subject from both a personal and musical level. He has captured the essence of the music, the man and the mystique that we, as jazz musicians, have felt about Evan's since our first hearing. It is quite uplifting to read a story and be able to see the entire spectrum of a persons work rather than a superficial writing of dates,cliches and hearsay. Mr. Pettinger has evoked all the emotions a writer can hope for in me for I have smiled, laughed, shook my head in disbelief, nodded in appreciation and even shed a tear when reading of the complete abandonment Evans felt at the loss of Scott LaFaro. To be able to share these private moments and also revel in the delight of so many of his peers, reviewers and band mates in his unique and superior talent is a real treat. I have read and re-read sections and shared many passages with friends. Now I will make sure I buy copies for all the musicians I can think of that may not have heard of this marvelous writing. Three cheers for Mr. Pettinger. I only wish that writers who wish to tell us about someone read this book and do as much research as he has. In my forty years as a professional musician and 30 years as a jazz educator, writer and broadcaster this is the best book written about the life of a musician I have ever read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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