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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Demise of Bill Evans

I swear I had no idea before hearing about Bill Evans' addiction and death. It was shocking. Why? Because I would never have thought a man so thoughtful, rational (as much as an artist can be), introverted, and gentle of nature, and smart, would fall victim to impulses and destroy his life in this way. Like Bix Biederbacke, it was a way of self-destruction, perhaps in order to escape psychological pain, but before their deaths they coped with music.

His father was an alcoholic. How much that contributed to his own depression and addiction I don't know, but it had to have some effect. Evans was enormously successful after he was hired by Miles Davis into his band. They were very different in personality but understood and appreciated each other. America's racial conflicts in the 50s was one of the main factors that split them up. Evans went on to become the preeminent jazz pianists of all time.

He was very intellectual, and that also made his addiction a surprise. He was not one of those instinct-driven, impulsive artists who operate on pure emotions. I have seen some videos of his interviews and he talked about jazz music like an academic, minus the snobbery. So analytical. So cool and articulate. So ... normal and sane.

It's heartbreaking. This biography recounts how, when he was addicted to heroin in the 1960s and broke and starving, he regularly called his friends begging for money. When he later got a big advance on a contract, he meticulously paid each one back. A man like this shouldn't be an addict. What contradiction. What nonsense.

He eventually quit heroin for a while, but then his wife committed suicide, and he went back on dope. Then he got himself into methadone treatment and stayed clean and productive for another decade. Then in 1980 he got hooked on cocaine and died quickly. It was over, just like that.

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