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How My Heart Sings by Peter Pettinger

Bill Evans, one of the greatest creative musicians of the century, lived only to the age of 51. In the last half of his life, in a triumph of will and the creative impulse, he maintained iron discipline as an artist while he let heroin and cocaine drag him to destruction. His friend Gene Lees called Evans’ death “the slowest suicide in history.” Pettinger’s book weaves together analysis of Evans’ music with facts of his life before and after he became a narcotics addict. An English concert pianist and university music teacher, Pettinger died before the book was published.

The serious listener with a complete Bill Evans collection should set aside a few weeks to read this book, making time for frequent trips to the CD player or turntable. It would require discipline almost as great as Evans’ to ignore the urge to hear the recordings that Pettinger discusses as he tracks Evans’ progress through his brilliant career. Pettinger’s strength as a listener and analyst makes this an essential book about Evans, but is not the ultimate Evans biography. Pettinger does not explore in depth the pianist’s complex personality and his relationships with family, friends and fellow musicians. Still, even his dry recitations of facts and occasional speculation about behavior motives stir anyone who admires Evans’ music and recoils from the pain of the junkie existence he chose in his mid-twenties. There remain important biographical questions about his measured decision to take up heroin; about his experience in the Miles Davis band; about the psychological and spiritual effects of the deaths of bassist Scott LaFaro, his father and brother; about the conflicting influences of his heritage, his upbringing and the values of the bebop life.

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