As a guitarist, I somehow find more inspiration in players of other instruments than other guitarists. Case in point: Bill Evans. If you haven’t heard of him, read up here. He most famously played on Miles Davis’ masterpiece album Kind of Blue, and is one of the most respected and adulated pianists in jazz history. Why? A good answer can be heard on his 1963 album, Conversations with Myself.
For each track on this album, Bill would record a melody, with improvised variations, on one track. He then rerecorded another improvisation, essentially overdubbing himself playing along with his original recording. For all but one track, he did this process a third time. The result is 3 simultaneous “tracks” of melodies that mingle, intertwine, and speak to each other. One track will lay back and comp while another drifts languidly through a tune–soon a third voice jumps in and starts in a new direction, while the first voice responds. Themes are echoed, ideas revisited… it’s a brilliant display of virtuosity. It’s almost as if he deliberately left room to breath in certain tracks, and remembered what to fill in when he went to overdub the next. What you hear from the piano is three voices speaking, thinking, and anticipating each other.
Bill is said to have smiled after one recording session and commented that he “always wanted to be an orchestra.” There’s one big difference though… orchestras don’t improvise from start to finish.