What would Bill Evans Do?

I was listening to a recording of Bill Evans (1929-1980) accompanying Tony Bennett (b. 1926) and thought how wonderful it would be if I could back up a vocalist like he does, but of course using the guitar. My goal was to transcribe the accompaniment to “Young and Foolish” by Horwitt and Hague in a way that maintained the changes and voicings Evans used but was playable on guitar. The changes to this tune are rather generic so the techniques learned from this example could easily be applied to many tunes with similar changes. I am happy with the results so far. At least I know it works well with the vocal although I am not 100% sure of the changes. I am certain this will be an evolving transcription as I hear more and more each time I listen. Evans was known for his fantastically creative use of chord substitution and embellishment and this is certainly no exception. It would be best to find a basic lead-sheet version of this tune and compare it to this transcription. Notice how Evans thinks melodically and sometimes contrapuntally while comping. Some of my favorite examples are in measures twenty-three where the bass and melody are moving in contrary motion, measures twenty-seven and twenty-eight where we have the beautiful descending/ascending lines and the harmonization in measure twenty-nine and thirty.

I included a couple of the fills Evans used where possible (measures twelve and sixteen). Diagrams are used to aid in the reading. This was not at all easy for me. I really struggled with a lot of the harmony and I am sure there will be some revision as I said earlier. I think you will enjoy this, I know I did. It should give you lots of ideas in terms of what can be done with what originally was a simple tune with simple changes.

Let’s examine what Evans does in detail. Download the pdf at the bottom of page containing the basic changes as well as Evans’ changes and follow along.

Measure 1: Evans introduces the secondary leading-tone diminished seventh chord (G#dim7 or vii/vi).

Measure 2: The tritone sub Ab13 replaces the Dm7 (ii) functioning as a V/V substitute.

Measure 3: Rather than simply staying on the tonic, Evans uses the altered dominant (G7alt) on the second half of the measure before moving to the Gm7 in measure four.

Measure 4: The ii-V of F major is maintained with the exception of the tritone sub for C7 (Gb13) on the fourth beat.

Measures 5-6: The original is a standard move from F to D minor through the use of a ii-V-i in D minor. Evans does a most interesting progression in which he first moves from F to B7#9 (dominant of E minor), then to the tritone sub for E minor (Bb13) before finally reaching the A7 or dominant of D minor in measure six.

Measure 7: Where the original is a simple Dm7, Evans enhances this with a ii-V which includes the tritone sub for the ii (Bb7).

Measures 8-9: Instead of the original G7 to C, Evans introduces B7 to temporarily move into E minor (iii) as a substitute for the tonic C (I).

Measures 10-14: Similar to the original with the move into the relative minor (Am). I like the use of the B13 (V/V of A minor) on the first beat of measure ten. Measures thirteen and fourteen include one of my favorite devices for introducing motion into static harmony in which the lower voice moves under the sustained A minor harmony (B-A-G#-G). Evans does this with variation as well as introducing a complementary moving upper voice in measure fourteen which I find most appealing. 

Measures 15-16: The basic ii-V is enhanced with the use of another tritone sub for the V/V (Ab7) in measure fifteen.

Measures 17-24: A restatement of the first eight measures with slight variation. My absolute favorite being the elaboration of the D minor harmony in measures twenty-three and twenty-four where Evans uses contrary motion in the outer voices as well as introducing the dominant (A7) along with its V/V tritone sub (Bb7).

Measures 25-28: Very much as the original with the exception of the temporary move to E minor, as he did earlier, in measure twenty-four to twenty-five. I also love the ascending line as an elaboration of the D9 harmony in measure twenty-eight.

Measures 29-32: A classic Bill Evans turnaround in which the melody is harmonized using three tritone subs (Bb9, Eb9 and Ab7b5) substituting for the E7 (V/vi), A7 (V/ii) and D7 (V/V) respectively.

This makes a great study in chord substitution and embellishment which I hope will greatly enhance your accompaniment (comping) skills. I know I learned a lot from this acknowledged master of the art.

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