I don't generally go for vocal versions of Bill Evans' compositions. Too many attempts feel trite or lack the sensitivity and depth of Evans' piano originals. In other cases, the vocalist doesn't have enough technique, a problem instantly exposed when attempting an Evans piece. But there are exceptions. Here are my favorite vocal interpretations of Evans' songs, in no particular order. My criteria? An evident understanding of Evans' melodic primacy, tender timbre and gentle swing:
Gene Lees, Waltz for Debby. Gene was a close friend of Evans and wrote the lyrics to this one. Back in 1997, Gene told me he had his daughter Vicky in mind when he wrote the words. Gene isn't a singer, but to hear the song's wordsmith passionately belt out the tune in 1992 is about as touching as hearing Evans himself play it. As Johnny Mandel once said about Gene, Most people write of this music and musicians like they are fish in an aquarium. Gene is always in there swimming with them."
Kendra Shank, Time Remembered. This is from Shank's new Mosaic album (which includes a smart interpretation of Carole King's So Far Away). On Time Remembered, Shank shows off her enormous range and delivers her interpretation with a warmth and love that leaps right out.
Meredith d'Ambrosio, Blue in Green. This song originally was credited to Miles Davis, but years after Kind of Blue was recorded, Evans disclosed that he was the composition's author. D'Ambrosio recorded it on Echo of a Kiss (1998). She also included a fine version of Time Remembered. If you're unfamiliar with d'Ambrosio, she's a marvelous singer with a cozy, hip sound. John Coltrane liked her voice so much he asked her to tour with him in 1966, but d'Ambrosio declined.
Tessa Souter, Love Theme from Spartacus. While this song was written by Alex North for the 1960 movie Spartacus, Evans recorded it many times in the 1960s--including three album versions in 1963 alone: Solo Sessions, Plays the Theme from the V.I.P.s and Conversations with Myself. Souter's version appears on her new album Obsession, and she delivers the song with a wide open vocal that makes good use of space and technique.
L'Tanya Mari, Very Early. This Evans' waltz appears on Mari's new album, A Teardrop of Sun. Evans wrote the song while he was still in college at Southeastern Louisiana University in the late 1940s. Says Mari in the CD's liner notes: There's something about Bill Evans that always stood out for me. When you look at his picture he seems like this very quiet shy type of person. And his music just moves me."
Meredith d'Ambrosio, Turn Out the Stars. Evans introduced this song in 1966 as a solo work shortly after his father's death. D'Ambrosio chose if for her 1988 album, The Cove. I like her version because it's both casual and passionate, a tough combination. It certainly doesn't hurt that pianist Fred Hersch sounds eerily like Bill Evans himself playing behind the singer.