Transcription: Bill Evans on Love for Sale

billevans1This is a transcription of the two-chorus solo that pianist Bill Evans takes with the Miles Davis Sextet on Love for Sale. It’s taken from the Columbia recording originally entitled Jazz Track, although these days you’re probably more likely to find it under the reissue title of ’58 Miles.

I think this solo is one of Bill’s very best: beautifully constructed, rhythmically fascinating and if you’re used to the more introspective sound of the classic Evans Trio, the sheer exuberance of the swing may come as a surprise.

You can listen to it here (piano solo starts at 7:40):

It’s natural, in a way, that the facets of this solo that make it so musically powerful also make it somewhat tricky to notate and read. A few pointers.


The tune is in Bb minor – actually, melodic minor is quite strongly implied. For simplicity of reading, I’ve given it the key signature of Bb major and flatted the third of the key where necessary. I’ve also taken a few liberties with accidentals where I think it makes for easier reading (particularly in the parts of the tune that are in the relative major, Db). Oh, and note the 4-bar tag ending that all the soloists play on their final chorus.


Bill takes a very flexible approach to the changes – he’s as likely to treat the first chord of the A section as EbD rather than Eb7, and also occasionally plays the second chord as BbD . Note that this is in keeping with the subtle ambiguity of Cole Porter’s melody against the harmony. He’s also very flexible in his approach to alterations on the dominant chords – although a general preference for 7b9 chord-scales is evident. His lines involve a lot of passing-note chromaticism (very bebop) – and often the chromaticism goes far enough to override the straight changes. The chording underneath the line is usually quite sparse (again very bebop in conception, although Bill’s style here is based on close LH clusters, dabs of more or less ambiguous colour, rather than classic bebop shell voicings). With all this in mind, I’ve decided to give the original changes rather than attempting to notate precisely what Bill is implying in his lines. It’s instructive to look at the ways he chooses to depart from the given changes – but your LH comping should reflect the harmony implied by his RH line at the time.


One of the things that really makes this solo is that Bill frequently overlays different time feels. This kind of playing is often much easier to hear than read. In bars 9-14 of the second A section, first chorus, he overlays a 3/4 feel, but displaced by an 8th note. A similar thing occurs in the final A section of the first chorus, but here he overlays a 12/8 feel a 16th note off-whack. Another example of this kind of displacement occurs in the second A of the second chorus, where the fourth chords appear. Try to hear the overlaid time feel, rather than reading all the tied notes. Note that he always resolves these time feels back into the home 4/4. Just leaving them hanging wouldn’t be nearly as strong musically.


Bill uses lots of different types of swing throughout the solo. You need to listen to the recording to get these nuances down – there’s really not much point attempting to notate them. In particular, listen for the way he uses different swing phrasing on the ornaments (last A of the first chorus, for instance). These are really just classical “turns”, but I thought it would be less ambiguous to write them out fully as 16th note groups.

Oh, and listen carefully to his articulation. This thing really dances and notation can’t really convey that either.

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4 comments on “Transcription: Bill Evans on Love for Sale
  1. al vail says:

    probably the most gorgeous and rhythymically genious ever done.

  2. extremeflute says:

    Excellent! (…I notice that, in the A sections, all the resolutions to a Bb chord that is MINOR, except for the second phrase where the resolution is to a Bb chord that is MAJOR…) :-)

    • Jason says:

      Good point. The original melody doesn’t use major or minor 3rds of the tonic anywhere, and when it resolves it does it ambiguously to 5th or 7th, so you always have the option. It’s a very Kurt Weil slippery, sarcastic kind of thing to do. I’d go so far as to call it Weimar witty.
      The IV chord is definitely played as dominant here, which implies a resolution to Im most naturally. But then I’ve heard this tune done with all kinds of permutations. You can even turn it into a bizarrely totally “happy” version by using EbM7-BbM7 and Cm7 Fm7 BbM7 at the finish. Kind of misses the obviously intended “sourness” of the sentiment for me though.
      Clue’s in the title, I’d say. There’s not much romance or hope of it in this hooker’s life. It’s not life so much as a living. Incidentally, did you know that when this song was first performed it was always sung by a man in drag – American moral feeling at the time was fine with that, but the idea that a woman was selling her body wasn’t. Makes you think. You might even argue that Weil’s tonal ambiguity was a social comment couched in harmony. Interesting also that Cole Porter also used similar things.
      Thanks for chipping in, and welcome onboard. Hey, does extreme flautism involve performing Martinu while hanging upside down off a cliff and ironing with one free foot? Just curious.

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Books for Sale
...appetising young books for sale... Pents book is recommended reading on Gary Burton's Berklee course.

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