Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia

I discovered jazz in high school and soon became aware of Bill Evans. An accomplished musician educated in classical music, he chose to become a jazz pianist instead, and took elements of those influences to create his own unique style.

As a young man, Evans went on to compose and perform modal music with Miles Davis. Miles praised Bill’s contribution in the groundbreaking Kind of Blue LP released in the summer of 1959 by Columbia Records, often considered the best-selling jazz album of all time. Evans later left Davis to play solo, and form his own jazz trios. Bill Evans became one of the true jazz legends of our time.*

In this intimate 1970 interview and concert at the rural home of Finnish host Ilkka Kuusisto, a very wealthy and very highly regarded classical musician, with jazz musicians in the family, Evans was asked if his group practiced. He explained that “the trio has never rehearsed. … All the things that we play have grown out of performance.” They shared “a natural development through common desire to make it more musical all the time as much as we can.” It was “freedom with responsibility…to the total performance.”

In his solo work, Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia. The calming repetitive left hand chords juxtaposed with the right hand animated notes evoke fluttering doves of peace calling to each other. Pure genius! It reminds me of the French impressionistic sounds of Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, and Ravel, but this is distinctly his own music.

Peace Piece” was an unrehearsed modal composition he recorded for his Everybody Digs Bill Evans LP released in early 1959 on the Riverside label. It’s been hailed as one of the most beautiful and evocative solo piano improvisations ever recorded. I totally agree. One of the most beautiful jazz recordings I’ve ever heard. A peaceful masterpiece. A masterpiece of peace!

In this 1966 documentary, Bill Evans talks with his composer brother Harry about the creative process and self-teaching. Evans spoke of a Universal Mind. “I believe that all people are in possession of what might be called a universal musical mind. Any true music speaks with this universal mind, to the universal mind in all people. The understanding that results will vary only in so far as people have or have not been conditioned to the various styles of music in which the universal mind speaks. …”

Click SHOW MORE under that video to read the rest of the transcription. Evans also analyzes the melody and harmonics of Star Eyes, and performs other pieces, in between musical discussions with his brother.

*Bio excerpts from Jazz Musician Archives

Bill Evans (August 16, 1929–September 15, 1980) was one of the most famous jazz pianists of the twentieth century. Along with McCoy Tyner and Oscar Peterson, he was the force behind the biggest evolution in jazz since Art Tatum and Bud Powell.

Evans won seven Grammys during his career, the first for Conversations With Myself (1963), [which I had bought back then] although not for his most celebrated work, Sunday At The Village Vanguard (1961) with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian.

His use of impressionistic harmony, his inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and his syncopated and polyrhythmic melodic lines influenced a generation of pianists, including Herbie Hancock, Denny Zeitlin, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett, and his work continues to inspire younger pianists such as Fred Hersch, Bill Charlap, and Lyle Mays, as well as other musicians such as guitarist John McLaughlin.

In 1994, Bill Evans was posthumously awarded a “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) “for altering the course of jazz piano with his lyrical, impressionistic solo and trio recordings, characterised by the understated intensity, distinctive chord voicings, and unique harmonic sensibility that opened up the vocabulary of modern jazz.”

Later added: Bill Evans Peace Piece 1978

Taken from the notes to the video: Bill Evans was often asked to perform “Peace Piece” in later years after the 1959 recording, but he usually resisted, claiming that it had been the inspiration of the moment, and not something that could be recreated, he considered it as a one-time thing. Only on this occasion in 1978 he performed “Peace Piece” with the Bill Evans Dance Company in Seattle. This Peace Piece, extracted from the video, recorded in 1978, is probably the only recorded performance after “Everybody Digs Bill Evans” from 1959. Peace Piece is a “practiced improvisation” and you can hear how Bill adapts his playing to the choreography of the dancers compared to his 1959 solo performance.

Emanuil Ivanov covers Bill Evans Peace Piece 2022

Emanuil Ivanov performed Bill Evans – Peace Piece beautifully at Bulgaria Hall, Sofia on October 3, 2022 as a Prayer for Peace. It is the closest to the original. Ivanov’s playing is very refined and delicate, capturing the peaceful feeling perfectly.

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8 Responses to “Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia”

  1. deborahbrasket Says:

    I LOVED this. Thank you so much for sharing. And inspirations for someone who is relearning to play the piano.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken Chawkin Says:

      Glad you loved it, Deborah. I used to play classical piano, and tried to play jazz by ear. Could only play the opening to Peace Piece. What kind of piano are you relearning to play on? There are a lot of great instructors on YouTube, depending on the style and technique. You really are a creative and productive person!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nathanael Chawkin Says:

    Just SO GORGEOUS. Reminds me most of Chopin’s Berceuse with the ever constant left hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. deborahbrasket Says:

    I bought an electric keyboard a year ago and it does sound lovely. But I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted a “real” piano and found a baby grand on Craigslist owned by an accomplished pianist who was moving to a larger grand and sold his old one very reasonable to make room for the new. It’s an antique, but very well cared for. Of course I’m just a beginner, having only taken 3 years of piano as a child, so I will never reach your level of playing. But I’m enjoying the music I can make even at my level. I’ll look for those instructions on u-tube, and may even try to find a local teacher to help me improve.


    • Ken Chawkin Says:

      Sounds wonderful to have bought such a piano! I only took 5 years of classical training, and eventually dropped it. I was a slow sight-reader. My son graduated in education and piano performance. He still plays to this day and learns new classical pieces. The way to learn is to practice, practice, practice!!! But have fun playing!


  4. Perfect Pairings, Evans’s “Peace Piece” & Sapiro’s Skies | Deborah J. Brasket Says:

    […] discovered this music at Ken Chawkins’s website The Uncarved Block, and I quite agree. I played it over and over again, it was so soothing and deliciously eloquent. […]


  5. Found this beautiful piece of harp music online | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia […]


  6. Bobby Hutcherson plays Bouquet with Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock at One Night with Blue Note | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Kristan Toczko performing Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune; a kind of musical onomatopoeia in Bill Evans’s Peace Piece; the hauntingly beautiful music of Davy Spillane on uilleann pipes and low whistle; and the angelic […]


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