I think that Evans stands as one of the gods of what might be the last heroic jazz age. It doesn't seem that any jazz man after the generation of Miles, Trane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, etc., has been canonized (to mix theological metaphors) in the way that those giants were.This is not to address the question of whether any later artists deserve it or not. To address that question would be to plunge into very deep waters.
But Evans, I think, stands alone in a couple of respects. One is that he wasn't African-American. There is a school of thought that says that only Black jazzmen are really capable of the genius of the music. Evans is a problem for that school.
A second reason Evans stands alone is that he seems uniquely resistant to the currents in which other jazz giants were piloting their boats. I think it's true that Evans alone is never tempted by the new thing, or by fusion, or any other of the many movements into which all the others plunged at one time or another. This is not to say that his music doesn't change. But the changes depend almost completely on the musicians playing with him. Evans music seems to come solely from his own magnificent heart.
The trio was his natural format. Against a brilliant bass and drums, Evans essence is recorded. The Riverside collection documents his earlier period as leader. Here are a couple of samples from his first sessions in November of 1956. This was the first number he recorded at these sessions, a short solo:
And here is the first Bill Evans Trio, with Teddy Kotick on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.
Bill Evans/Speak Low/New Jazz ConceptionsIf you haven't got the cash to land the Riverside box, shell out for New Jazz Conceptions. ps., the Riverside and Fantasy boxes are both available at eMusic, but it will soak up a lot of downloads.