"Waltz for Debby" is a jazz standard composed by Bill Evans. A piano trio jazz waltz, it was first recorded on Evans's 1956 album New Jazz Conceptions and, perhaps more famously, on his 1961 live album Waltz for Debby. It has been recorded by many artists, both as an instrumental and as a vocal piece. The song's lyrics were written by Gene Lees.
"Debby" in the song title refers to Evans' niece, Debby Evans.
Gene Lees wrote that Evans was "elegantly coordinated" and, contrary to his fragile appearance (created partly by his bookworm’s spectacles, slicked down hair, and poor posture), was strong and lean. He had played sports in college, was "a superb car driver… a golfer of professional stature and… a demon pool shark." In later years, Evans’s appearance underwent a radical change; he sported long hair, a full beard, and more stylish glasses. His mind was sharp, given to self-analysis. He enjoyed anagrams, naming one of his tunes "Re: Person I Knew," for his friend and producer, Orrin Keepnews. But throughout the 1950s and 1960s Evans fought addiction to heroin. His friend Lees wrote that he finally kicked the habit in about 1970 and was drug-free for nearly ten years, however he reverted to using cocaine toward the end of his life.
Evans had been experimenting with a trio format and in 1959 he hit upon the combination that has remained the hallmark of the Evans sound, with a young Scott LaFaro on bass and drummer Paul Motian. Their first album, Portrait in Jazz: Bill Evans Trio, recorded in December, featured seven familiar standards and two Evans originals. It embodies many of the qualities that marked nearly every Evans album: relatively brief treatments (the longest cut is five minutes, 22 seconds) of the selections; fresh, thoughtful reworkings of familiar tunes (an up-tempo "Autumn Leaves," a swinging "Some Day My Prince Will Come"); dense harmonic structure and beautiful, distinct voicings, often using the bass to free the piano for exploration; and perhaps most important, interplay among the three that reflects great freedom within structure.
"I’m hoping the trio will grow in the direction of simultaneous improvisation. If the bass player, for example, hears an idea that he wants to answer, why should he just keep playing a 4/4 background? The men [I] work with have learned how to do the regular kind of playing, and so I think we now have the license to change it," Evans told music writer Michael James.
A word that Evans used often in his interviews in describing his fellow musicians was "responsible." He expected them to know the music and their instruments well enough to foster improvisational freedom. In a 1979 interview with Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin for Jazz Spoken Here, Evans stated, "I respect the American popular song very much and some of the masters that have composed in that form … and I studied this very hard, analytically and diligently as I was growing… There’s still explorations that I haven’t begun to make yet into handling these things."
Evans noted in the same 1979 interview: "In my mind Scott LaFaro was responsible in a lot of ways for the expansion of the bass. I think he is acknowledged, at least within musical circles, as being more or less the father or the wellspring of modern bass players. And when we got together I realized that Scott had the conceptual potential, he had the virtuosity, and he had the experience and the musical responsibility … to handle the problem of approaching the bass function in jazz, especially with a trio."
This trio performed and grewtogether from its formation in 1959, a growth that is reflected in the double album, The Village Vanguard Sessions. Recorded live at Evans’s favorite New York nightclub on June 25, 1961 (at both matinee and evening sessions), this album is often cited as a model of trio musicianship. "We try to dedicate ourselves to the total musical statement, whatever it might be," said Evans, "and try to shape it according to musical ends and not ego ends." This, however, was to be the last performance of this trio; ten days later LaFaro was killed in an automobile accident. So distraught was Evans that he did not play for some months.
A re-formed trio, with Chuck Israels on bass, began playing together in early 1962 and recorded two albums in May and June for Orrin Keepnews on Riverside. Here again Evans has plumbed the depths of mostly familiar standard tunes, plus a few originals, to produce the unique Evans trio sound. Given the nature of this sound, bassists were extremely important to Evans; he was fortunate, sometimes after considerable effort, to unearth several great ones. Following Israels in 1963 was Gary Peacock, after which came a long association with Eddie Gomez stretching from 1966 to 1977, the last nine years with Marty Morell as drummer. This group is generally considered to be the second great Bill Evans trio. His last group, with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbera, met with critical and popular approval as well.
For two decades Evans’s principal passion was his trio and it is in this context that most listeners associate him. Though the personnel changed some during the years, these groups always sounded highly polished and organized. Amazingly, Evans told McPartland that the trios had had only about four rehearsals in 20 years. "I try to reach out for things that are natural and fundamental… I choose the people as responsible musicians and artists so that I can give them that kind of freedom and know that they’re going to use it with discretion toward a total result… With Scott [LaFaro] it was a once in a lifetime thing, but I have had marvelous experiences with other bass players, with Eddie [Gomez] certainly for eleven years, and now [with] a new young bass player—I don’t know what I can say about … Marc Johnson… He’s just gorgeous."
Interspersed with all the trio activity, Evans created a recorded legacy of collaboration with a wide variety of musicians. In various contexts these include: singer Tony Bennett, harmonica master Toots Thielemans, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, altoist Lee Konitz, guitarist Jim Hall, and tenorist Stan Getz. He has recorded the music of Claus Ogerman, with symphony orchestra, and of Gunther Schuller. In addition, Evans found time to produce several solo albums. Two, Conversations with Myself in 1963 and 1970’s Alone, won Grammy Awards. In these Evans used multiple tracks to perform duets and trios with himself, sometimes using an electronic keyboard in place of his favored acoustic piano. Some of Evans’s original compositions include: "Waltz for Debby," "Blue in Green," "T.T.T." ("Twelve Tone Tune"), "Peace Piece," and "34 Skidoo" (using alternating 3/4 and 4/4 time). "Song for Helen" was written for his longtime manager, producer, and friend, Helen Keane.