Evans, Gil

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Gil Evans

Composer, arranger

For the Record

With the Band Of Claude Thornhill

Evans 55th Street Jazz Salon


Electronic Explorations

Selected discography


Abrilliant self-taught composer, orchestrator, and arranger, Gil Evans has an indelible mark on the course of modern*jazz. His work of the 1940s helped harness the raw-edge and fast-paced tempos of bebop and distill them into rich orchestral scores that reflected the influence of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and European modernist composers. Though Evans lacked formal pianisitic training and resisted a systematic study of keyboard scales and exercises, he possessed a natural analytical ability which enabled him to pursue a visionary path of self-study. His talent for writing, orchestrating, and arranging exemplified a genius attentive to both the musical score and the proper accompaniment for the soloista talent exemplified in his work with Miles Davis, Kenny Burrell, Atrud Gilberto, and other exploratory music, stage, and film projects.

Gil Evans was born Ian Ernest Gilmore Greenthe son of parents of Scotch-Irish stockon May 13, 1913 in Toronto, Canada (he later adopted his stepfathers surname). Evans later claimed that his father, a gambler, and his mother, a nursemaid and folk mandolinist,

For the Record

Born Ian Gilmore Ernest Green, May 13, 1912, in Toronto, Canada; married Anita Evans; children: Noah and Miles Evans (musician).

1933 co-led the Briggs-Evans Orchestra; led a unit which eventually fell under the leadership of singer Skinny Ennis; 1938 served as staff arranger on Bob Hopes NBC radio program; joined the band of Claude Thornhill; enlisted in military 1942; rejoined Thornhill 1946; after resigning from Thornhills band in 1948, Evans served as arranger with Miles Davis Nonet; in early 1950s performed as a pianist with various groups; arranged Miles Davis 1957 album Miles Ahead; in same year, recorded first solo LP Gil Evans and Ten; continued collaborations with Davis Porgy and Bess 1958 and Sketches of Spain 1959-1960; recorded solo album Out of the Cool; worked as an arranger with Kenny Burrell and singer Astrud Gilberto 1965; worked as arranger on Davis 1968 LP Filles de Kilimanjaro; recorded solo effort, Ampex in 1971; There Comes a Time: The Music ofJimi Hendrix 1974; Svengali 1973; Priestess 1977; Anti Heroes 1983; continued to record and perform with the Gil Evans Orchestra until 1988.

Awards: Won Down Beat Reader and Critics polls as arranger in 1966 and 1974; named founding artist of John F.Kennedy Center For Performing Arts; Guggenhi-em Fellowship in Composition in 1968; New York State Council on the Arts Composer Commission in 1974; inducted into American Jazz Hall of Fame 1996.

were married in Australia and then arrived in New Jersey before settling in Canada. Raised by his mother, as a child he lived in British Columbia; Spokane, Washington; and Stockton, California, where he attended secondary school. The familys large jazz record collection of artists such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington exposed Evans to the sounds of mainstream jazz. While in San Francisco in 1927 he saw the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Orpheum Theatre. I will never get over it! he told Brian Priestly in Jazz Journal International. I wasnt even into music then. I was just buying records and going to high school. From recordings Evans studied music and the art of composition and arrangementa process he would continue throughout his life. In Stockton he played in high school bands and formed his first group.

In 1933 Evans co-led the Briggs-Evans Orchestra and, three years later, formed a band which became the Rendezvous Ballrooms house band in Bilboa Beach. The unit eventually fell under the leadership of singer Skinnay Ennis who, in 1938, landed the ensemble a job on Bob Hopes NBC radio program in Hollywood. For nearly three years, Evans worked on the Hope broadcast as the bands staff arranger. By about 1941 I began to realize that I wasnt really technically equipped to handle that kind of work, admitted Evans in Down Beat. It took too much to do it. Besides the producer of the show was always calling me the poor mans Stravinksy because he could never figure out what key we were playing in. The shows producer also brought in pianist Claude Thornhill to write some arrangements for the program. Evans considered Thornhill a first-rate arranger and fine pianist with a perfect sense of timing. When Thornhill decided to go to New York and start his own band he hired Evans in 1941. After Thomhills induction into the military, Evans enlisted in the army in 1942.

With the Band Of Claude Thornhill

Returning to New York after military service in 1946, Evans joined Thornhills newly-reformed orchestra. An inventive arranger, Thornhill divided the band into unconventional sections and introduced the French horn into a dance band setting. It was a conservatory band in a way, explained Evans in Down Beat. The pitch was perfect, the blend was just built in. At the time I needed a workshop to hone my craft. I had never written for French horns, for example, Thornhill had two, and later three, flutes in addition to the saxophones we already had. The bands non-vibrato horn section sound required Thornhill to lower registers of the instruments. As Evans related in Ira Gilters Swing to Bebop, There was a French horn lead, one and sometimes two French horns playing in unison or a duet depending on the character of the melody. The clarinets doubled the melody, also playing lead. Below were two altos, a tenor, and a baritone, or two altos and two tenors. The bottom was normally a double on the melody by the baritone or tenor. The reed section sometimes went very low with the saxes being forced to play in subtone and very soft.

Evanss first arrangements for Thornhill were Russian composer Modeste Moussorgskys Pictures At an Exhibition and Arab Dance. Though a fine arranger, Thorn-hills ambition to write waned during the post war years, allowing Evans to gain valuable experience. He leaned on me, and he didnt want to, stated Evans in Swing to Bop. I let him because I wanted the experience. He liked modern jazz, but it wasnt what he wanted to play. A follower of bebop and the music of Charlie Bird Parker, Evans introduced Parkers Anthropology and Miles Daviss Donna Lee,a quintet tune expanded by Evans into a seventeen-piece big band arrangementinto Thornhills band book. Evanss arrangement of Donna Lee, recorded by the Thornhill band in 1947, featured trumpeter Red Rodney, clarinetist Danny Polo, and saxophonist Lee Konitz. It was a beautiful band, related Konitz in Ira Gitlers Jazz Masters of the Forties. Gil Evans wrote the better arrangements in the book, and it was a good group of musicians. Gil tried to teach them how to play bebop. He was bringing in Birds lines and teaching these catsand a lot of them were olderhow to inflect the lines. In The Swing Era, Gunther Schuller described Evans as creating sublime arrangements for Thornhill that, as he added, represent some of the more glorious moments in jazz history.

Evans 55th Street Jazz Salon

In the summer of 1948 Evans resigned from Thornhills band. From his downstairs cramped midtown Manhattan apartment on 55th Street, he created a gathering place for modernist jazz musicians. The apartment, described as a jazz salon by Miles Daviss biographer Jack Chambers, became the meeting place for a coterie of musicians such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, and John Lewis. Furnished with only a piano, lamp, and a bed that took up most of the apartments floor space, Evans left the door open for visiting musicians. The discussions held among Evans and his guests have become famous in the annals of jazz history. Another visitor, Miles Davis, noted in his autobiography Miles, During this time I was going over to Gil Evanss a lot, listening to what he was saying about the music. Gil and I hit it off right away. I could relate to his musical ideas and he could relate to mine. With Gil, the question of race never entered; it was always about music. From the discussions held at Evanss 55th Street gathering spot came the idea to assemble a nine piece ensemble to be placed under Daviss leadership.

In September of 1948 The Miles Davis Nonet was booked for two week engagement at the Royal Roost an ensemble consisting of saxophonists Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, trombonist Michael Zwerin, French hornist Junior Collins, tubaist Bill Barber, bassist Al McKibbon, drummer Max Roach, and vocalist Kenny Hapgood. In tribute to the gathering of talent, Davis urged the Royal Roosts owner to display on the clubs street sign: Miles Davis Nonet; Arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and John Lewis, marking the first time jazz arrangers were bestowed such recognition. Though the band evoked mixed reactions from listeners and critics, it drew the attention of Pete Rugolo of Capitol Records who, through Daviss intercession, decided to record the nonet. The ensembles second session featured Boplicity, a composition co-authored by Evans and Davis (credited to Daviss mother Cleo Henry) and Evanss arrangements of Moon Dreams and Darn That Dream. The series of 78s were finally issued as the ten-inch disc Birth of the Cool. The nonets music gave rise to a jazz movement known as cool or west-coast jazz. But as Pete Welding observed in the liner notes to Birth of the Cool, Lets reaffirm something here: catchy as the album title notwithstanding, the music of the Miles Davis Nonet was, is anything but cool Among these twelve performances is to be found some of the most arresting, resourceful, richly textured and abidingly creative small-ensemble writing in all of jazz history. In his book West Coast Jazz, Ted Gioia credited Evans as the midwife of the cool jazz sound that, in its effort to refine the sounds of bebop, inspired imitations among jazz musicians throughout the world.

During the 1950s Evans appeared as a pianist with Gerry Mulligan at New Yorks Basin Street and with drummer Nick Stabulas in Greenwich Village. In May of 1957, after nearly nine years since their last collaboration, Evans and Miles Davis were reunited to record the critically acclaimed album Miles Ahead. The new project was far removed from the youthful experiments conceived in the grimy 55th Street basement, wrote Chambers in Milestones I. It involved a nineteen-piece orchestra, and it was backed by the corporate weight of Columbia Records. The album included a version of Delibess Maids Of Cadiz and Evanss original composition Blues For Pablo. The collaboration proved an artistic and critical success. In his autobiography Miles, Davis expressed his appreciation for Evanss abilities: As usual, I loved working with Gil because he was so meticulous and creative, and I trusted his musical arrangements completely.

In the fall of 1957 Evans made his recording debut as pianist and leader of a ten-piece band with the album Gil Evans and Ten. The LP featured former Thornhill memberstrumpeters Louis Mucci and Jake Koven and saxophonist Lee Konitzas well as drummer Nick Stabulas and bassist Paul Chambers. The next year, Evans continued his musical association with Davis, recording George Gershwins folk opera Porgy and Bess. Within the modern interpretive score, Evans wrote the piece, I Loves You Porgy for Davis. Miles and Gil do not merely flirt with show music tunes, observed Charles Edward Smith in liner notes to Porgy and Bess, they do a job on this greatest of operettas related to American black folk music and jazz. In working from the original vocal score, Gil is aware of both literary and musical relationships.


In two session periods held in November of 1959 and March of 1960, Evans and Davis once again joined forces for the recording of Sketches of Spain. After hearing Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigos adagio movement, Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra, Davis approached Evans with the idea of recording the piece. Evans and Davis then decided to record an entire album of Spanish themes. The difficult arrangement of Coincerto de Arnjuez took a twenty-piece studio orchestra eight sessions to complete. To prepare himself for the recordings, as Chambers noted in Milestones 2, Evans spent the interval listening to recordings of Spanish folk music and logged several hours in the library reading books on flamenco music. Taken from a theme from Maneul de Fallas 1915 ballet score El amor brujo, Evans scored Will O the Wisp, and from traditional folk tunes and Andulasian melodies he created the remaining arrangements Pan Piper, Saeta, and Sola.

In November and December of 1960, Evans recorded his solo effort, Out of the Cool, which included his original composition La Nevada (snowfall in Spanish). In 1961 Davis recorded with the Gil Evans Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and in the following year recorded a project together for Columbia in a large orchestra with jazz vocalist Bob Dorough. Evans and Davis too recorded a bossa nova session which produced the number Quiet Nights (now available on the recently released CD box set Miles Davis&Gil Evans). While in Los Angeles in 1963 Evans and Davis composed and recorded a score for the play Time of the Barracuda at Columbias Hollywood studio. Though the score was abandoned for the short-lived stage production, Evans utilized the scores jointly written material for the 1964 recording Barracuda (listed as Time of the Barracuda on later reissues) which appeared on the LP Gil Evans Orch., Kenny Burrell&Phil Woods. Driven by Elvin Joness propulsive drumming and featuring guitarist Kenny Burrell, Barracuda has been considered as one of Evanss finest solo efforts of the 1960s. Evanss work from 1963-64 has appeared on the LP The Individualism of Gil Evans which featured his impressionistic blues composition Las Vegas Tango.

In 1965 Evans appeared as the arranger on Burrells acclaimed Verve release Guitar Forms. I had a great time with Gil Evans on Guitar Forms, recalled Burrell in the liner notes to Kenny Burrell, Jazz Masters 45. I selected the tunes the only input I had with the arrangements was our discussion of some of the harmoniesnot necessarily how we would voice them but just what changes we would use at certain points. I made suggestions; he was always open to suggestions. He was incredible as an orchestrator and a harmonizer. Evans then orchestrated and arranged the music for singer Astrud Gilbertos 1965 Verve album Look to the Rainbow. In 1968 Evans appeared as an arranger on Miles Daviss album Filles de Kilimanjaro.

Electronic Explorations

In 1971 Evans recorded his album Ampex (his work from 1969 and 1971 also appears on the Enja LP Blues in Orbit ). Though Ampex featured acoustic and electric piano, earlier that year Evans had begun to incorporate the synthesizer into his live performances. Around this same time, he too explored the music of Jimi Hendrix, whom he had met in the studio while mixing the Ampex album. In Jazz Journal International, Evans told Robert Palmer how Hendrix was a really good guitar player innovative [and] a bright spirit. Though Evans planned to record with Hendrix after the guitarists return from England in 1970, the project came to an end with Hendixs death in the fall of that year. In 1974 Evanss orchestra played a Carnegie Hall concert dedicated to Hendrixs music and later that year paid tribute to the guitarist with the 1974 album There Comes a Time: The Music of Jimi Hendrix (re-released in 1988).

After recording his 1973 Atlantic album Svengali, Evans followed up his electronic explorations with the 1977 effort Priestess, featuring a fourteen-piece orchestra which included two tubas and a synthesizer. His 1980 acoustic piano and saxophone duo performance at NewYorkCitys Green Street, Lee Konitz and Gil Evans: AntiHeroes, presented Konitzs saxophone and Evanss sparse yet haunting piano style in brilliant dialogue. In 1983 Evans arranged several pieces for Daviss Star People album, and toured Japan with his orchestra on a double bill with Daviss group. Three years later, he recorded with saxophonist Steve Lacy and continued to compose and arrange for his orchestra. Evans died of peritonitis on March 20, 1988, in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Evanss 1996 induction into the American Jazz Hall of Fame and the release of the six-CD box set Miles and Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings are but a few honors recognizing a man who ranks with the greatest minds of the twentieth centurys cultural avant garde. In the liner notes to Anti Heroes Lee Konitz stated, Gil was not a composer in the usual sense of the word. He was not a piano player in the usual sense, either. In fact, Gil was not your usual kind of man. He was a poet all the way from morning till night.

Selected discography

Gil Evans&Ten, Prestige, 1957.

New Bottle, Old Wine, 1958.

Out of the Cool, Impulse, 1960.

The Individualism of Gil Evans, Verve.

Blues in Orbit, (1969) reissued on Enja, 1985.

There Comes a Time, The Music of Jimi Hendrix, re-released as The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix, (1974) reissued on RCA, 1988.

Svengali, Atlantic, 1973.

There Comes a Time, RCA, 1975.

Priestess, 1977.

Gil Evans, Jazz Masters 23, Verve, 1994.

Arrangements With Claude Thornhill

Early Autumn, 1947.

Donna Lee, 1947.

With Miles Davis

Boplicity and Moon Dreams for Birth of the Cool, 1949.

Miles Ahead, Columbia, 1957.

Porgy and Bess, Columbia, 1958.

Sketches of Spain, Columbia, 1960.

Filles de Kilimanjaro, Columbia, 1968.

Star People, 1983.

With Others

(Gilberto Astrud) Look to the Rainbow, Verve, 1965.

Masabumi Kikuchi&Gil Evans, (released in Japan), 1972.

Kenny Burrell, Jazz Masters 45, Verve, 1995.

Lee Konitz and Gil Evans, Anti Heroes, Verve, 1991.



Chambers, Jack, Milestones I and Milestones 2, Beech Tree Books, 1985.

Davis, Miles with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography, 1990.

Gitler, Ira, Jazz Masters of the Forties, Collier Books, 1966.

Gitler, Ira, Swing to Bebop: An Oral History of the Transition of Jazz in the 1940s, Oxford University Press, 1985.

Gioia, Ted, WestCoast Jazz: Modern Jazz In California 1945- 1950, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Schuller, Gunther, The Swing Era: The Development in Jazz 1930-1945, Oxford University Press, 1989.


Billboard, May 18, 1996.

Balliet, Whitney, New Yorker, August, 26, 1996.

Palmer, Robert, Down Beat, May 23, 1974.

Priestly, Brian, Jazz Journal International, July and August 1978.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from liner notes by Pete Welding to Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool, Nat Hentoff to Sketches of Spain, Harvey Siders to Gil Evans, Kenny Burrell, and Phil Woods, David Demsey to Kenny Burrell, Jazz Masters 45, comments by Lee Konitz in Lee Konitz and Gil Evans Anti Heroes.

John Cohassey

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