Evans, Gil (originally, Green, Ian Ernest, Gilmore)

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Evans, Gil (originally, Green, Ian Ernest, Gilmore)

Evans, Gil (originally, Green, Ian Ernest, Gilmore ) influential jazz arranger, composer, pianist, leader; famous for his collaborations with Miles Davis; b. Toronto, Canada, May 13, 1912; d. Cuernavaca, Mexico, March 20, 1988. He is considered among musicians and critics to have been one of the finest jazz composers, influencing Herbie Hancock, Maria Schneider (a personal protege), and many others. He had a lower public profile than his reputation would suggest; this was due to his quiet personality, infrequent tours leading his own bands, his work behind the scenes and on soundtracks, and because he was a perfectionist with little regard for record company rehearsal budgets and thus did not work as much as he might have. Though his writing is known for its moody and evocative colors and voicings, it was various and his brass parts would often be fiendishly high and loud. As a result much rehearsal was needed; for example, hours of rehearsal for Sketches of Spain were recorded (some bits of the rehearsal are issued) and a complete take was never achieved, so the issued result is spliced from successful sections.

He lived in British Columbia, and Spokane, Wash., before settling in Calif. Mostly self- taught, he played in high school bands, and co-led the Briggs-Evans Orch. in 1933; this band formed the nucleus of the band that Evans led at Balboa Beach from 1936 until 1939, when vocalist Skinnay Ennis took the band over, with Evans remaining as staff-arranger for almost two years. In 1941 he moved to N.Y., where he joined Claude Thornhill as staff-arranger until serving in the U.S. Army in 1942. After his release, he re-joined Claude Thornhill. His basement flat was a meeting place for George Russell, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, and others. This led to several 1948 broadcasts and a series of recordings with Miles Davis, which won international acclaim. In 1959 Evans requested from George Avakian, who was then a producer at Columbia, the LPs in the “Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music” (field recordings) in order to get ideas for an album of “international music,” The album never came off as planned, but became Sketches of Spain. From the LP Spanish Folk Music, Vol. XIV of the Columbia series, he and Davis took “Saeta” (complete with the marching band at the beginning and end) and “The Pan Piper” (using almost the same album notes). Coltrane said he had spoken with Evans before his 1961 Africa/Brass date, but for unknown reasons Evans was not involved.

Later Evans led his own band, and did widespread freelance writing during the 1960s. On some sessions he played quiet but effective piano parts. He wrote for Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, and Benny Goodman, among others. After a less active period as a bandleader, Evans again led his own big band in the U.S. and Europe during the 1970s, including a concert tour in 1978. He became more consistently visible and was able to keep fairly stable personnel together for long stretches of time; musicians wanted to work with him even when jobs and money were little. Evans experimented with electronics and free-jazz improvisatory principles. He admired Jimi Hendrix and arranged some of his pieces with plans for the guitarist to record with Evans’s orchestra. When Hendrix died the pieces were eventually recorded with John Abercrombie and Ryo Kawasaki. In the last years of his life he did some film scoring (The Color of Money, Absolute Beginners), was reunited with Miles in the studios, and visited Brazil. In early 1988, he went to Cuernavaca to recuperate from prostate surgery, taking his synthesizer to work on new compositions. He died there of peritonitis resulting from the surgery.


Gil Evans and Ten (1957); Cannonball Adderley and Gil Evans (1958); Pacific Standard Time (1958); Great Jazz Standards (1959); Out of the Cool (1960); America’s #1 Arranger (1961); Into the Hot (1961); Individualism of Gil Evans (1963); Guitar forms (1964) Blues in Orbit (1969); Gil Evans (1969); Where Flamingos Fly (1971); Svengali (1973); Gil Evans’s Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix (1974); There Comes a Time (1975); Live 76 (1976); Tokyo Concert (1976); Priestess (1977); Little Wing (1978); Live at the Royal Festival Hall (1978); Parabola (1978); Anti- Heroes (1980); Heroes (1980); British Orchestra (1983); Live at Sweet Basil, Vols. 1 & 2 (1984); Bud & Bird (1986); Farewell (1986); Paris Blues (1987); Rhythm-A-Ning (1987); Collaboration (1989).


I Tetsuva Tajiri, Gil Evans Discography, 1941–1982 (Tokyo, 1983); R. Horricks, Svengali, or, The Orchestra Called G. E. (N.Y., 1984); G. Evans, The Gil Evans Collection: 15 Study and Sketch Scores from Gil’s Manuscripts (Milwaukee, 1997).

—Lewis Porter

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Evans, Gil (originally, Green, Ian Ernest, Gilmore)

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