For the first five years of my career (i.e. when I started gigging), random people, and some knowledgeable ones too, would come up to me and say something to the effect of "yeah, you sound good. Paul Desmond, man." And I would always smile and nod, but think to myself "WTF"? I don't think I sound a whole lot like Desmond. I like Paul Desmond a lot- he was the one good thing about the Brubeck quartet, and the record with Mulligan is really nice, but I never checked him out a whole lot, and certainly didn't model my playing after his. (For those who care, my models at that time were Kenny Garrett, Steve Coleman and Lovano and Coltrane to a lesser extent) But I guess, I was white and skinny (still am), and don't play with a traditionally "jazzy" sound (i.e. Cannonball or Bird), so that's what they heard.
So I guess I can sympathize with the rather testy reaction that Brad Mehldau recently gave to Downbeat about his connection to Evans. (The one where he said something to the effect of "I don't see what the big deal is about Bill Evans." The one that got Jack Reilly so worked into a tizzy Unfortunately, Downbeat just today removed that article's teaser from its website.) The article is in it's own way quite interesting, primarily but not exclusively a puff piece for the new Metheny/Meldhau recording. Though maybe not the way Downbeat intended. It has two theses- debunking the aforementioned Evans/Meldhau connection, and asserting that somehow Meldhau is the most influential jazz musician of his generation. Maybe I'll deal with that second issue when I tackle the duo record later (my early impression is largely positive).
I don't think Brad sounds a whole lot like Bill Evans, or at least, any more or less than most of his peers. On the other hand, he claims Monk as a primary influence, and I don't hear that especially obviously either. I do hear the influence of his teacher Fred Hersch (and by extension, his teacher Art Lande), whose debt to Evans is clear in his own music. Plus, he's white, he's classically trained, and his reach extends beyond the traditional cannon (or, at least, what it was when he hit the scene in the early '90s) so the Evans comparisons are inevitable, if perhaps not entirely fair. If asked, I would probably say to Brad what I'd say to Senor Reilly- get over it.
The second notion presented in the Downbeat article- the issue of Meldhau's influence, and perhaps of influence in general- is much more interesting. So that'll be next. I hope...