Bill Evans Biography

by Win Hinkle with a lot of help from others.

revised July 4, 1998, now has Realaudio

William John Evans was born August 16, 1929, in Plainfield, New Jersey. Billís father, of Welsh descent,  grew up in Philadelphia. His mother, whose maiden name was Siroka, was of Russian heritage and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was in the solemn liturgy of the church that Bill had his first encounter with music.  Bill had an older brother, Harry Evans Jr,. Both sons were encouraged to pursue music in spite of the fact that neither parent played an instrument. Since Harry was studying piano, the younger Bill was encouraged to take up the violin. When Harry's piano teacher came to the house to give lessons, Bill would stand by out of sight and listen. When the lesson was finished, Bill would go to the piano and play what he had heard, not yet knowing how to read a note of music. It became apparent that Bill would also need piano lessons and the violin was put in the closet.  In addition to playing his brother's classical repertoire by ear, Bill would improvise at the piano, often imitating the dance and big band music he heard on the radio.

The Evans home in North Plainfield, New Jersey
William John Evans, at age 10 or 11
Bill Evans on his older brother's shoulders

Bill's brother later became a music educator, rising to the position of Superintendent of Music in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana School District. Harry also played jazz and frequently performed in Louisiana. There is a 2-LP recording of Harry's playing that his son Matt Evans issued privately several years after his father's death. Harryís career was documented by his son, Matthew, Though he was more outgoing than his brother, Harry suffered from depression throughout his life and committed suicide about a year before Billís death. Sadly, Harry seemed to feel he could never be the pianist his brother was.

Harry Evans, Sr., William John Evans,  and Bill's mother, _____ Siroka Evans
Bill Evans, near the time of high school graduation.

Harry Evans Senior was from Philadelphia, an immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen originally born in Wales, UK. Mr. Evans Sr. was engaged in a variety of business adventures throughout his life including a bakery, a coin operated laundry and a golf driving range. Mr... Evans was fairly successful with the driving range and soon asked the young Bill to help out with the family business, retrieving golf balls on the range. Bill started playing golf at this age and continued to find time to play while a young man, until the demands of the music business became too much to continue.

Bill and Harry's childhood and family life was probably dysfunctional, looking back on it in terms of the norms of today. Harry Senior had a drinking problem, often leaving home on binges for days at a time. Harry Evans Jr. suffered from depression from his thirties on, eventually taking his own life in the early seventies.

Bill Evans, perhaps taken durring his college days or Army days, shirtless at a beach location
Bill Evans at Southeastern Lousianna College in Hammond, LA

Throughout his life, Bill remained close to his parents and big brother Harry. At the age of six, when he took violin lessons, he felt the need to be protected by his brother Harry, who prevented him from being beaten up by the other boys in the street. Later, when Bill's life was in crisis, physically or mentally, he often returned to the solace and protection his family could provide, however dysfunctional. Harry Evans Senior died in 1965 of an alcohol related illness. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Evans moved to a trailer park in Ormond Beach, Florida. Bill visited her regularly, especially on occasions when he needed to recoup from the demands of the road and during attempts to withdraw from drug addiction. Mrs. Evans passed away in Florida in 1974.

In high school Bill took up flute to participate in the band at Plainfield High School in North Plainfield, New Jersey. After graduation Bill enlisted in the the U.S.Army and played flute, piccolo, and piano in the Fifth U.S.Army Band at Fort Sheridan near Chicago.

Click here to listen to part one of the earliest known recordings of Bill Evans, a radio broadcast of the Fifth U.S. Army Band durring the Korean War.  Warning: long clip (2.6 megs) could take a long time to buffer

Bill Evans, playing flute with the Fifth U.S. Army Band in Chicago

Click here to listen to part two of the radio broadcast of the Fifth U.S. Army Band.  Warning: long clip (.5 meg.)

Click here to listen to an interview with Bill Scott about Bill Evans in the Army Band.

One of Bill's sillier expressions, probably taken in the late 50's or early 60's.
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