Bill Evans is most well known for his harmonic interpretations of classical jazz, and his piano playing was strongly influenced by the great jazz musicians who came before him such as Stan Getz, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, and his favorite, Nat King Cole. He would later meet some of his idols such as Theolonious Monk and he would go on to work with Miles Davis in the late 1950s. While with Miles Davis’ band, he helped record Kind of Blue, which is the highest selling jazz album of all time.
It was these musicians and the time spent with Davis that really influenced Evans own interpretations of jazz, although he never strayed far from classical jazz. In fact, he avoided the electrification of jazz that was common in many of his peers, and would also steer completely clear of jazz fusion as well. He even mentioned how it disappointed him watching Davis’ transition into a more jazz fusion style of playing. Evans was strictly classical jazz piano, although with his very own unique and influential style.
He was quite well known for playing many block chords and harmonic clusters, while leaving out roots and delegating them to the bassist. He was also able to develop his own unique way of transitioning from one chord to the next with ease and almost no movement of his hand.
Evans’ style and use of harmonies reformed and changed the way classical jazz piano is played still to this day. Although his playing style and compositions were strongly influenced by previous jazz greats, his initial background was playing classical musicians such as Mozart and Beethoven and this also helped shape harmonic style. He would later admit that Bach had a huge impact on the way he looked at playing the piano and composing.
Evans was also influenced by other more modern impressionists composers like Claude DeBussy and Maurice Ravel, and all of this is evident is his harmonic use of the piano. His style was so unique he is considered the best and most influential post-bop jazz pianist.