How to Get good enough to play Bill Evans

Hi guys,

Im fairly new to Jazz, I have a teacher but wanted to bolster my knowledge and do work outside of our current curriculum hency why I’m here!

My favourite piece is this: "Spartacus" Love Theme - Nardis - Bill Evans Solo - YouTube Bill Evans Spartacus Love Theme / Nardis

How does one go from a beginner, to being able to play this?

Is it a process of memorization of chords and shapes, or is it all improvisation?

It fascinates me the duopoly of structure and improv and I would love to learn the necessary steps to even attempt something as technical as this.

Any responses would be hugely appreciated

Thanks

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Hi Michael. Welcome to the site. like all of us, you have your eye on the holy Grail. in one of his interviews Bill Evans was asked the same question. he says the answer is to know the tune you’re playing inside and out, understanding it completely. I think the best that most of us can manage is to get little snippets of our music sounding like his - some runs in thirds, or a II V I progression the way he plays one. I think you’ll find that as you progress you’ll develop your own style, with little bits and pieces influenced by other musicians. Anyway, good luck and hope you enjoy the site as much as I do.

Aye,
George

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Hi George thanks for the response. As a junior I guess it’s the naivety to want to emulate and become mirrors of those who you perceive as masters. But you answered my question perfectly with “ knowing your piece inside out “ I think for me to get to that stage would require musical analysis and chinking, breaking down the concepts and styles and constant key and rhythmic changes, the articulations embellishments and touch.

With Bill Evans, it’s so expressive and colourful and full of variations but what becomes clearer to me through listening and research, is his inseparable classical training and style, shining through within his jazz pieces. He’s such a perfect example of fusion and blending the two. After a few months on here I’ll definitely work my way to learning this piece. It’s so wonderful as an arrangement and compositon let alone aurally.

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Welcome to the community area @MichaelOkorodudu

As @George_Miller mentioned, learning the form of the tune inside out is very important. This will allow you to understand the framework that Bill Evans is improvising and arranging within.

If I wanted to emulate this medley, I would first start with “Nardis” as I find the form a little simpler to follow than Spartacus Love Theme.

We actually have tutorials on both of these tunes in the editing stage - I have quite an editing backlog to catch up on - here is the performance of “Spartacus Love Theme” which will give you some insight into the tune and the chord changes:

I will post a performance of “Nardis” in here later this afternoon and we can continue the discussion then on how best to tackle this recording.

I’m sure @Tuomo can give you some additional direction in the interim.

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@MichaelOkorodudu @George_Miller @Hayden

Hi everyone!

Yes, there are tutorials and solo piano arrangements coming soon on both Spartacus Love Theme and Nardis,

When learning a new song, like you guys said, learning it from all angles is important. However, starting the process might feel overwhelming.

I would first take few goals how to start, for example you can start with 2 different parts:

1. Learn the melody and chord changes

Do this in the simplest way; melody on the right hand and simple voicings on the left, nothing fancy, just that you hear the chord’s relation to the melody. While doing this, try to understand what is going on in the song; try to detect II V movements, where does the harmony move, the form of the song, modulations etc.

Watching the tutorial will help with this step.

2. Learn the solo piano arrangement

Take the transcription of the provided solo piano arrangement and learn it. You don’t necessarily have to learn it note by note; you can take parts of it you like, and add your own voicings if you prefer, and this way create your own arrangement.

Overall, hardest part of learning and practicing is to get started, but once you start with just few smaller goals, that shapes your learning process, and applying new things into your practicing will get easier.

-Tuomo

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Hayden,

I’m really chuffed to see these tunes are on their way. Lovely performance of “Spartacus Love Theme.”

Likewise @scott1 , both great tunes and I agree beautiful arrangements by Tuomo.

@MichaelOkorodudu - here is the arrangement of Nardis:

The style is different to the Bill Evans version but how we choose to interpret a jazz standard is very much in the hands of the arranger/performer.

The main point of this thread is the importance of learning and memorising the tune’s harmony and melody. That is step 1 in deconstructing a recording like this.

As @George_Miller pointed out, the solo piano work of Bill Evans is - in many musicians’ eyes - the holy grail of solo jazz piano performance and so you will certainly need a solid understanding of jazz theory to be able to analyse and understand what his is playing. All of this theory can be found in our beginner and intermediate jazz courses.

Step 1 is to learn to tune. I’ll get both of these tutorials on the site ASAP and start with Spartacus Love Theme over the weekend.

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Wow what a perfect coincidence! Amazing to hear your working on this. Thank you all for your contributions you really clarified something that was essentially magic to me!

Thank you for this video. Really smooth and coherent. I think my next question which is way down the line but may be something you done to learn this piece. Do you analyse this medley before you play it. As someone who wishes to compose, musical analysis is important to me so I can emulate patterns and movements that are happening in pieces that inspire me. Is this necessary to perform the piece or is if an additional bonus?

For me when I learn a new tune I transcribe the melody from hearing and sing the melody notes. Then I try to analyse the chords and how they feet into the melody. Finally after we have the melody and the chords I try to improvise over the tune with iReal.

All these steps can be time consuming but after you have done 4-5 tunes in this order it will get easier and faster to analyse by ear the melody and chords…

BTW @Hayden - I loved the “Spartacus Love Theme” arrangement !!!
It is one of my songs, I liked the version by Yusef Lateef the most :slight_smile: I would recommend checking it out.

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Ariel,

Thanks for the heads up on the Lateef version. I thought I’d include it here in case someone else is interested. . Barry Harris is on the piano.

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Unrelated to the specific songs discussed but felt I had to share a medley played almost daily at this point by Bill that is just so perfect. His version of My Favourite things is so interesting every time

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Great tips @ariel … thanks for sharing. The “Spartacus Love Theme” video above was arranged by Tuomo… I just did the video editing. I agree it’s a magnificent arrangement!

The full lesson has just been added to the website, you can find it here with the chapters and all the relevant downloads:


@MichaelOkorodudu - yes that is a wonderful recording of “My Favourite Things” - also one of my favourites of Bill Evans. I have covered that tune in the style of Bill Evans a few years ago, here’s the performance:

You will see the original chord changes in black, and my reharmonisations in red. When I’m arranging in a heavily reharmonised style, I always keep in mind that the song and the melody/motifs should still be easily recognisable - an important point!

Reharmonising tunes like this is a fun workout for both the brain and the fingers.

Here is the full tutorial on “My Favourite Things”:

The following theory lessons contain essential information for anyone looking to understand the playing style of Bill Evans:

Have fun with this stuff!

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Your contribution to the jazz teaching community is so impressive. Thank you for this!

With the tutorials you put up, what section do they usually stay in on the site? Is there a tutorial section or is it within the inner voicing course?

Hi guys,

@ariel your process of learning a new song seems great! Also thanks for pointing out that more we learn, easier and faster it gets :slight_smile:

@MichaelOkorodudu , as we talked about transcription and now inner voicings, also you might be interested:

The video goes through a theme section of Bill Evans’ ‘April In Paris’

from the same album as ‘Spartacus/Nardis’ medley as well as ‘My Favorite Things/Easy To Love’.

Have fun!

-T

Good question Michael. The lesson links above are from a variety of different courses.

Most courses on the website start with theory topics, and then move onto application of the theory in context of tunes, and our beginner courses usually have practice-themed lessons which show useful drills and exercises to master the theory in all 12 keys.

Another useful way to browse the website is to use the search box, and this will return any lesson page that contains that keyword, for example if I search “inner voices” in the search box I see there are 34 lessons which include information on inner voices:

This is handy because it will show results including both theory lessons and jazz standard lessons where the theory is applied. The search results also show lessons by all of our teachers so you can find different views and perspectives on a specific topic or theory area.

Use the following search keywords to find lessons that would help you to understand the techniques and arranging principles often used by Bill Evans:

  • drop 2 voicings
  • inner voice movement
  • sus chords
  • cluster voicings
  • rootless voicings
  • quartal voicings

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will certainly give you some key insights into his playing style.

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A follow-up on Spartacus Love Theme. Here’s another Evans version from the album What’s New: Bill Evans with Jeremy Steig (1969). It’s incredible how he plays behind and around Steig’s flute and how they play off of one another. Enjoy! :musical_keyboard:

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