improvisation Jazz Music Transcriptions

Bill Evans’ Stella by Starlight

I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Bill Evans groupie: I love everything about the way this guy plays. Every phrase is carefully crafted, every note has it’s purpose, everything that is said has a reason to be said. So when I heard him play «Stella By Starlight», one of my favorite (albeit overplayed) tunes, I started fangirling really hard.

I’ll explore some of my favorite lines on this solo and tell you why I think they’re badass, but you should definitely check it all out; I particularly enjoy his rhythmic vocabulary. As always, the full PDF will be at the end of the blog. Make sure to follow the blog on Instagram @thejazztranscripts and buy me a coffee here if you enjoy the content I upload!

This is by far my favorite line of the solo: the very first one. Evans starts this sincopated line that he develops and mutates every measure to fit the harmony and develop this punchy phrase. Check out some of those beautiful landing spots, like the natural 9th on Emin7b5 and the 11th on the Cmin7.

A couple of measures later, Evans shows us that he can be as simple as he can be fancy (very). In this line, he just plays some very basic triads that highlight mostly the chord tones of every chord he’s going through. The most important thing to make such a simple phrase like this work is where you’re playing these simple triads. Evans sincopates the line by starting it on the last half of beat 4 in the 9th measure, assuring a sense of anticipation and that tangible zing you get when you start and end a phrase «half a beat early».

And then he goes and does something unusual: on the beginning of the second chorus, Evans lowers the rhythmic intensity of his improvisation. We’re usually though to create an improvisation arc that goes like this: start out easy, build intensity over time, lower the intensity when you’re about to finish your solo. Billy boy is here to prove there’s more than one way to do things right.

As promised, the full PDF:

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