Bill Evans: I never practice. I play Bach

Bill Evans: I never practice. I play Bach


norman lebrecht

April 26, 2021

In 1969 the Bill Evans Trio was in Helsinki, looking for somewhere to hang out.

They wound up in the living room of Ilkka Kuusisto, where there was a new Bösendorfer that Bill was keen to try (he was a contracted Steinway slave).

Ilkka, father of violinist Pekka Kuusisto, asked Evans afterwards about his practise method.

Evans said: ‘I never practise. But I play Bach: it’s necessary for my technique and for the quality of my playing, and that’s all that I need.’

Here’s another track, with some informal chat:


  • Duncan says:

    Wonderful player, lovely touch. Listen to ‘I loves you Porgy’ from his Live at Montreux album – sublime playing. If you have not read Peter Pettinger’s biog of Bill (How my heart sings) then I can recommend it.

  • Duncan says:

    Wonderful player, lovely touch. Listen to ‘I loves you Porgy’ from his Live at Montreux album – sublime playing. If you have not read Peter Pettinger’s biog of Bill (How my heart sings) then I can recommend it.

  • John Kelly says:

    A master. Reflections in D (on the album New Conversations) by Ellington is quite extraordinary. Also when you think the world is going to hell in a handbasket “Peace Piece” by Evans will assure you that, to quote Julian of Norwich, “All will be well”………

  • David Levy says:

    Evans studied classical music at the Mannes School.

  • Larry says:

    An amazing artist. He did two albums with Tony Bennett, just the two of them, which are brilliant.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I love Bill Evans, and coincidentally I was listening to his duet album with Tony Bennett today. It is beyond beautiful.
    But if any musician – especially one of the great ones – tells you that they never practice, don’t believe them. They’re blowing smoke at you.

  • DML says:

    Sublime artist. Peter Pettinger (now sadly lost to us) was pretty good on the old Joanna too).

  • mel says:

    I remember a few years ago I stood at his humble gravesite in Baton Rouge, listening to some amazing stuff between him and Eddie Gomez, contemplating what he would think about that tree root that threatens to upend his stone… I hope they’ve sorted the issue out since then.

  • drummerman says:

    Gunther Schuller, in his autobiography “A Life in Pursuit of Music” relates how he and Evans played through many Wagner operas in piano 4-hand versions. Alas, he also discusses Evans’s drug habit and how he, Schuller, gave Evans money many times which he knew was being used to buy drugs.

  • My favorite trio and quartet recordings of Bill Evans are the You Must Believe In Spring and Affinity albums with the common denominator of drummer Eliot Zigmund. These two recordings share a searingly personal and transcendental spell recalling Bill’s playing on the famed Kind of Blue album. What’s the reason for this? One key element is the presence of Zigmund, who shares a marked sensitivity and focus with the poetry of cymbals and brushes that recalls Jimmy Cobb, the drummer on Kind of Blue.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Enthusiastically agreed, Michael!
      Zigmund is phenomenal.

      • MER says:

        Glad to hear it, Greg. As you undoubtedly know, Bill preferred solo piano over all other formats, and his Conversations with Myself, actually using three simultaneous tracks by himself (!), and Alone albums, are phenomenally brilliant and moving, too. One funny anecdote: Eliot told me they called Bill “The Phantom” because after a performance was over the musicians would be talking, but turning your head for a moment, Bill would be gone. Eliot also mentioned how Brahms was a great favorite of Bill.

  • Novagerio says:

    The Michelangeli of jazz!

  • Frank says:

    For many years I played with a wonderful pianist who’d studied with the eminent (and almost forgotten) Irwin Freundlich. My colleague remembered that Freundlich sometimes complained of a pianist upstairs who often played Bach, frequently in the middle of the night. Turns out it was Bill Evans, who evidently lived in the same apartment building in NYC and understandably kept odd hours.

    • MER says:

      Great story. Another great jazz pianist, Lou Levy, was fond of telling a funny story about Bill Evans. Bill was staying at a hotel in Beverly Hills while gigging, and had lunch with Lou one day. Evans had just composed a new piece, and wished to play it for his colleague. First, he asked permission from the manager to use the piano, and then went upstairs to retrieve his notations. While waiting, Lou was approached by the apprehensive manager asking: “Is he any good?”

  • jonathan says:

    I’d like to know what he means by “practice.” Rudiments? Surely not improvising technique and approach. I gues that’s more exploration than Practice. IDK, and ideas would help out.

  • MER says:

    Related, the oldest daughter of Stan Getz, Bev Getz, told me her father never practiced except to try out a new reed. He did sing nursery rhymes to her when she went to sleep, Stan’s favorite singer being Frank Sinatra, sharing that preference with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Lee Konitz, and others.