By the time that Bill Evans played the 1976 Newport Jazz Festival, he had established a magical chemistry with bassist Eddie Gomez and new drummer Eliot Zigmund, who had replaced Marty Morell in early 1975. Together they exhibit uncanny empathy on the exquisite opener "Sugar Plum," an effervescent take on Jerome Kern's "Up with the Lark" and a hard-swinging rendition of Evans' "Twelve Tone Tune," which prominently features Gomez's virtuosic bass work. This Carnegie Hall set also includes rare performances of the sublime "Someday My Prince Will Come," the gentle "Minha (All Mine) and Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way."
One of the most influential pianists over the past 50 years, Bill Evans pioneered a new direction in jazz that emphasized harmonic extrapolation and an exquisite, walking-on-eggshells sensitivity more so than the macho, two-fisted, blues-based swinging style of the previous generation of players. Evans' crystalline, Erik Satie-inspired approach to the keyboard would have a huge impact on generations of players who followed in his wake, including Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Denny Zeitlin, Steve Kuhn, Marc Copland, Richie Beirach, Fred Hersch, Michel Petrucciani, Bill Charlap, and Brad Mehldau. A former member of the Miles Davis sextet (his presence on the landmark 1959 recording, Kind of Blue, is most striking on pieces like "Blue in Green" and "Flamenco Sketches"), Evans made a strong impression with his first trio, which included the innovative bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. Their 1961 live Sunday at the Village Vanguard set the standard for interactive trio work and is still regarded as a jazz classic. Tragically, LaFaro was killed in a car accident 10 days after that historic session.
As profoundly focused and expressive as Evans sounds on this extraordinary performance from the summer of 1976, he would only have four more years to live. Plagued by a heroin and cocaine addiction throughout his career, the great pianist and composer died on September 15, 1980 from a hemorrhaging ulcer and bronchial pneumonia. During his lifetime, Evans was honored with 31 Grammy nominations and seven awards. He was named to Down Beat's Hall of Fame in 1981 and in 1994 was honored posthumously with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. (Bill Milkowski)