The sound and success of "Kind of Blue," one of Miles Davis' greatest recordings, were largely due to the presence of pianist Bill Evans. In his autobiography Davis dismissed Evans as "a good little piano player." But as any fan knows, he was something more than that.
Virtually everyone who touches a keyboard in jazz today has incorporated aspects of Evans' work, a combination of a slashing attack with a rich harmonic sense. Evans was most famous for his trios, which he ran with true democracy. He regarded his last one -- with Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums -- as one of his best.
That is the lineup on "The Last Waltz," an eight-CD boxed set recorded live in San Francisco during a week in September 1980. It was Evans' last gig; he died a week later.
The shared artistry and emotional communication among the three musicians is extraordinary. One can fault the repetition of material (six versions of Miles Davis' "Nardis," for example), but the creation of improvised music at this consistently high level is impressive.