THE DOZENS: MARIA SCHNEIDER SELECTS 12 ESSENTIAL GIL EVANS TRACKS by Ted Panken (editor)

In 2006, during a “listening session” with New York Times music writer Ben Ratliff, Maria Schneider compared Gil Evans to a fashion designer.

“You know how Armani knows how to dress a woman up and make her look just incredible?” Schneider remarked. “Gil knew how to dress a soloist and make that soloist so beautiful. [His scores] are like a watch, where every little gear attaches to something else. The music and the soloist are an inseparable entity.”



                          Gil Evans, artwork by Suzanne Cerny


Raised in various mining towns of the Pacific Northwest and then in Northern California during the first quarter of the 20th century, Evans (1912-1988) learned about dressing soloists from Duke Ellington, whom he first witnessed—it was the edition with onomatopoeia trumpet king Bubber Miley—at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater in 1927. Coming up during those years, Evans played piano, listened obsessively to Louis Armstrong, learned the arranger’s art by transcribing Don Redman, Red Nichols, and the Casa Loma Orchestra, and by 1932 was leading a successful regional dance band based in Stockton, California, where he’d moved in 1928.

From then until the end of his life, Evans displayed an incessantly inquisitive spirit and aesthetic courage that made him not only a soulmate to jazzfolk Dave Brubeck, a Concord native (his oldest brother, Henry, played drums with Brubeck in the ‘30s), and to Charles Mingus, out of Los Angeles, but also Californians Harry Partch, who was his friend, and John Cage, his neighbor at Westbeth, the Greenwich Village artists complex. All were free-thinking connoisseurs of sound who, like Evans, irrevocably transformed the American soundtrack with their intrepid investigations.

In 1956, when Evans—then 44 and a New Yorker for a decade—arranged and recomposed the repertoire for his first leader LP, Gil Evans & Ten, and his first album-length collaboration with Miles Davis, Miles Ahead, he was anything but a household name. Musicians and cognoscenti knew him, though, for the sui generis charts he’d produced during the ‘40s for Claude Thornhill’s dance orchestra, and as the musical director between 1948 and 1950 of Miles Davis’ pathbreaking “Birth of the Cool” nonet, whose sound blended the harmonic syntax of bebop with the lush orchestral palette that Evans had developed with Thornhill, one that bore more than a passing resemblance to the tonal universe of Ellington and 20th century European music.

 Maria Schneider

Within seven years, as Birth of the Cool bass trombonist Michael Zwerin once wrote, Evans had “single-handedly raised the line between arranging and composition” on the strength of the Evans-Davis desert island staples Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain, and Evanscentric opuses like New Wine, Old Bottles, Great Jazz Standards, Out of the Cool, and The Individualism of Gil Evans, on which he deployed the voices of Steve Lacy, Cannonball Adderley, Johnny Coles, Wayne Shorter, Kenny Burrell, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones to signify upon his own magical sonic journeys.

As Evans’ musical assistant from 1985 until his death, Schneider is perhaps more qualified than any other living musician to illuminate the inner workings of Evans’ art. As Bob Brookmeyer once told me, “Maria is a chance-taker, yet she has complete control over what she does, both as a composer and conducting her band. She has a voice, and where that comes from, I have no idea.”

Schneider’s story began in Windom, Minnesota, a prairie town of 4500, where her father, an agricultural engineer, ran a flax plant, maintained an air strip for his own airplane, and built tall radio towers to service his interest in ham radio. “In a way, Windom was full of Magic Realism, almost surreal,” she says. “In our house, sleeping in bed at night, this ball lightning sometimes came through one window and went out the other. Our parents told us this didn’t exist, but I kept seeing it. It instilled in me this idea that the world is full of magic, much more than people will acknowledge. I still believe that, because I experienced it as a child.”


Claude Thornhill (featuring Gil Evans): Sorta Kinda

Track

Sorta Kinda

Group

Claude Thornhill Orchestra

CD

The Real Birth of the Cool: Studio Recordings (Sony)

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Musicians:

Claude Thornhill (piano), Gil Evans (arranger),

Ed Zandy, Louis Mucci, Emil Terry (trumpets); John Torrick, Allen Langstaff (trombones); Walt Weschler, Sandy Siegelstein (French horns); Harold Weskel (tuba); James Gemus, Victor Harris, Ed Stang (flute, piccolo); Danny Polo (alto saxophone, clarinet); Bill Glover (alto saxophone, flute) Mickey Folus (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Mario Rollo (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Billy Bushey (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, clarinet); Barry Galbraith (guitar); Joe Shulman (bass); Bill Exner (drums); Gene Williams (vocal)

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Composed by James Oliver Young

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Recorded: New York, June 4, 1947

Thornhill_realbirthofthecool_studio_recordings

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This recording has so many great Gil Evans arrangements that I'd easily qualify it as a must-own CD. I love this particular arrangement because it's just so swingin and hip (I knowvery subjective words).

First of all, this is probably not the hippest song on the planet, and neither is the singing, but what Gil manages to create is extraordinary. The intro is quirky and wild, starting with the ascending sax line leading into the huge ensemble blast, then dropping off a cliff into a little piano moment. Contrast is a big part of the personality of this arrangement. It's very daring. Gil doesn't bring in the vocalist until after a full minute into the tune, and the whole piece is less than 3 minutes. He makes a very bouncy version of the melody with tight ensemble writing. After the intro, it feels very conventional, but rhythmically it swings like crazy. At the end of this first statement of melody between Gil's mid-range brass and piano, he creates a really unexpected transition and modulation. Listen to the bottom of the brass, the unison line against the quirky line in the trumpets. Also, this transition extends the form of the tune and creates an odd phrase that goes on longer than expected. The piece is full of surprisesthe kind you want to experience again and again. I find it to be a hilarious moment when this wildly creative transition settles into a new key and the simple vocal entrance. As the vocal delivers the melody, Gil throws in some awesome counter-lines in the saxes and French horns, with great little brass hitsendless details that make the feel so lively! Then the band's full, concerted ensemble send-off to the tenor solo is superb line writing, creating a completely light and fluid full ensemble. Not easy to do, trust me! And the band is so swingin', too. Check out how hard the band swings and the great line in the ensemble right before the vocal returns. Man! Of course, Gil writes fantastic lines for every player so it's super-gratifying to play, and, with the inner parts so well written, it's almost impossible not to swing. Just when you think Gil's given you his last surprise, check out the last note. With a very dry delivery, he lands on an odd note (the relative minor key). How I wish Id known this piece when I knew Gil. I'd have loved to listen to it with him. I know the exact look on his face and the laugh he'd make when he heard the last note himself. That man had some sense of humor and this is one fantastic arrangement. And to think it was recorded in 1947. Wow!

Just a side note: obviously Gil also realized how hip this arrangement was, because he would come to reuse a lot of this same ensemble passages almost 10 years later for his arrangement of People Will Say We're In Love with Helen Merrill on her wonderful album, arranged entirely by Gil, called Dream of You.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Claude Thornhill (featuring Gil Evans): The Troubador (based on "The Old Castle" from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition")

Track

The Troubador (based on "The Old Castle" from Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition')

Group

The Claude Thornhill Orchestra

CD

The Real Birth of the Cool (Transcription Recordings) (The Jazz Factory (JFCD22803 ))

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Musicians:

Gil Evans (arranger), Claude Thornhill (piano),

Ed Zandy, Louis Mucci, Emil Terry (trumpets); Tak Tavorkian, Allen Langstaff (trombones); Walt Weschler, Sandy Siegelstein (French horns); Bill Barber (tuba); James Gemus, Victor Harris, Ed Stang (flute, piccolo); Danny Polo (alto saxophone, clarinet); Les Clarke (alto saxophone, flute); Mickey Folus (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Mario Rollo (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Billy Bushey (baritone saxophone bass clarinet,clarinet); Barry Galbraith (guitar); Joe Shulman (bass); Bill Exner (drums)

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Composed by Mussorgsky-Evans

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Recorded: New York, NY, June 18, 1947

Thornhill_realbirthofthecool_transcriptionrecordings

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

I ask that you spend 99 cents and buy Pictures at an Exhibition (the orchestral version) orchestrated by Ravel, and get the part for "The Old Castle." That's what this is based on. You'll find the comparison to be very enlightening. People often assume that classical composers write more linearly than most jazz composers/orchestrators. Jazz tends to be chord consciousmany arrangers think vertically when they arrange. And when most people talk about Gil Evans music, they refer to the marvelous "voicings." I say phooey to that. The magic of Gil is so far beyond that. It's in the lines and layers, folks! There are so many layers displayed here it's just crazy.

The original begins with a bassoon line that is quite hypnotic and gives way to the melody. This bassoon line comes in again just briefly under the melody at the end of a phrase connecting us to the start of the melody again. In Gil's version, after an intro based on Promenade (the recurring main theme in between each part of Pictures...), he starts with a little rhythmic nudging figure in the low brass at 0:27. Then he adds the flutes in a repetitive cross-rhythmic staccato figure, creating another layer that will add to the overall feeling feeling of "play" in the otherwise staid 4/4 meter. Now enters Mussorgsky/Ravel's original bassoon line, but Gil orchestrated it as a low unison for two bass clarinets with French horn (0:37). Gil's differs in that he will greatly extend the line, weaving it into a counterline that endures and develops throughout much of the piece. All these layers are established before the melody even enters at 0:45 in a solo French horn. And they all work together without creating musical mud, because each idea or line is so firmly established in its own right that it's easy for the listener to hear clearly the full tapestry and delight in the exquisite layering and details. Listen to the beautiful woodwind line at 1:30. The high flute "swirls" (2:34) are both lovely and exotic. The way this large ensemble grows and grows, and then dramatically descends and dissipates (2:543:23) to tremolos (with harmonic twists and contortions unique to Gil) makes me leap up out of my chair! The colors (harmonic and timbral) are stunning. There's an interesting tuba line that creates a little shift in the overall harmony at 3:32. Listen to the subtle little shifts in harmony at 3:464:13 in the repeated brass riffs. 4:174:37 is so creative. Even though harmonically things get very tight, twisted and dark, still, all the original material is there, so it's a mud that you want to wallow in. The original doesn't grow and develop nearly to the degree that Gil's version does and there's far less counterpoint. Gil was a master of development and intricacy. I think Ravel would have flipped over this. Also, it's funny that the original uses alto sax for the melody, and Gil's arrangement, which might be considered jazz, doesn't use sax on that melody at all. Also, make note, there's no improvisation on this piece. It's just about Gil's spectacular writing. Everything Gil would develop in later years has its roots firmly planted in his Thornhill music. This is one beauty!

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Miles Davis-Gil Evans: My Ship

Track

My Ship

Group

Miles Davis Orchestra under the direction of Gil Evans

CD

Miles Ahead (Miles Davis + 19) (Sony Columbia/Legacy CK 40784)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (flugelhorn), Gil Evans (arranger),

Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Louis Mucci, Taft Jordan, Johnny Carisi (trumpets); Frank Rehak, Jimmy Cleveland, Joe Bennett (trombones); Willie Ruff, Tony Miranda (french horns); Bill Barber (tuba); Lee Konitz (alto saxophone); Danny Bank (b-clarinet); Romeo Penque, Sid Cooper (clarinet, flute); Paul Chambers (bass); Art Taylor (drums)

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Composed by Kurt Weill

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Recorded: New York, May 10, 1957

Albumcovermilesahead

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This cut is beauty personified. There's nothing seemingly complex or unusual, but even the simple half-note pads that sustain the harmony behind Miles have Gil's telltale linearity and instrumental color. It's also probably one of his best-known arrangements.

Starting with the intro, you'll hear three layers. There's the top pattern in the cup-mute trumpets that descends. On the very bottom there's the static repetitive bass figure that's also in the tuba. And then, the third layer works in contrary motion to the top line. If you read Miles Davis' autobiography, you'll probably remember him marveling at Gil's use of contrary motion. What it means, in this instance, is that while the muted trumpets have a figure that slowly descends, you'll hear a bass clarinet slowly rising, as if coming out of a mist. When it reaches a rather high range, it drops to a little figure then that sets us up for the tune, which is stated by the low brass. This statement is partly characterized by the warm French horns placed quite high on the melody, the bass clarinet with a lovely line on the bottom, and the sweep of all the ensemble parts in motion with the melody. The ensemble here is voiced in harmony that gives beautiful lines to each player. The passage is lush with a darkly hued color to it.

I remember one day while working with Gil in about 1986, I walked in the door and found him at the piano, totally frustrated as he was trying to figure out what he wrote on this piece. He threw up his hands and said, "I don't know what I wrote!" I was baffled and asked why on earth he'd need to transcribe his own music. That's when he told me how one day he just got tired of his music and threw it out. Ouch! I was dying inside when I heard that. It also got me thinking about how it could be possible that such perfect music could ever, from his perspective, be worth trashing. I also got to witness how, given the distance of years, he seemed to again appreciate its beauty. Thankfully much of Gil's music was found, albeit long after he passed away.

I think one of the stunning moments of this cut is when Miles enters. The chords just feel like they glide, and their brightness, created by the slightly pinched sound of mutes, makes Miles' flugel a beautiful open and dark foil. That's a moment I could loop a thousand times. The double-time feel passage from 2:272:45 is voiced in a way that allows it to move fleetly. That's another wonderful ability Gil has. This piece ends how it begins, except this time the rising line of the bass clarinet is now absent, and that makes sense because we're winding down. This piece immediately segues into Miles Ahead, another piece loaded with linearity, contrary motion, parallel motion and a light sound, despite a sometimes thick ensemble playing.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Gil Evans: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

Track

Struttin' with Some Barbecue

Group

Gil Evans Orchestra

CD

The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (Blue Note)

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Musicians:

Gil Evans (piano, arranger), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Johnny Coles (trumpet), Frank Rehak (trombone), Chuck Wayne (), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Blakey (drums),

Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal (trumpets); Joe Bennett, Tom Mitchell (trombones); Frank Rehak (trombone solo); Julius Watkins (French horn); Harvey Phillips (tuba); Jerry Sanfino (reeds);

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Composed by Lillian Hardin Armstrong

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Recorded: New York, May 21, 1958

Gil_evans_complete_pacific_jazz_sessions

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This arrangement is a wonderful lesson in the art of building excitement. Gil opens simply and in the low register, with Bill Barber playing the melody on tuba. The accompaniment is warmly voiced and also in a low range. I'm guessing that the trombones are in hat mutes, playing along with the French horn. They play lovely little comping hits as if they're a piano, but with the warm glow that comes from the sound of combined French horn and hat-muted trombones. It's perfectly understated behind the tuba, and Philly Joe Jones plays super light and swingin' on the snare with brushes. Philly starts to open up the volume and adds a little more intensity after the solo trombone break by Frank Rehak. After Frank's first chorus, there's more comping behind him in the lower horns that gets increasingly rhythmically creative. There's also a great little sustained unison cup mute tone that begins at about 1:31. It holds for a good eight seconds.

Now we reach a harmonization of the melody that moves the tune to a higher octave and is harmonized for the first time. This ensemble section flies along with ease, and has a lovely counterline by tuba, trombone and bass clarinet that helps the ensemble feel like it's gliding. When this counterline hits 2:07, it starts making a stepwise ascent. From it, we get a feeling of yet more building, opening up, anticipation and general excitement. The range is now getting really high. It's great, because it heralds even more excitement that's soon to come in the form of Cannonball's entrance. Gil even keeps his creative hand in this solo break, as Cannonball, right at the end of the break, has to modulate and launch us into a new key, which serves to lift us to yet another level of excitement. The rhythms and lead lines of the ensemble comping just keep developingno shortcuts taken here. The details are simply mind-blowing. At 2:45, Harmon mutes in the trumpets add another fresh new color. This whole piece is essentially passing from dark orchestrational color to bright.

Gil's spectacular sense of rhythm, fabulous feel for bebop, and refreshing sense of harmony is clearly evident at his ensemble passage that goes from 3:013:10. I love how he wanders to a rather unexpected corner harmonically and just sits us uncomfortably there for a hair longer than we'd expect, before he gently glides us out. Marvelous! His next two short ensemble passages also have wonderful little lilting cross-rhythmic figures. His rhythms are full of surprises but at the same time are very catchy. On the next figure the ensemble soars to its top and dramatically holds it for a moment before we suddenly drop all the way down to a low pedal tone that lasts to the end of the piece. Over that pedal, Philly Joe and Cannonball continue playing to the finish.

All parts collectively decrescendo in what feels like a big exhale after all the excitement. Gil's written a thousand tiny details into this piece, but each of them contribute to a common goal, and, for that reason, add up to a total experience, an emotional ride. In the hands of someone without such a sense of purpose, so much detail could easily add up to a whole lot of clutter. It never happens with Gil. That's one of the many marvels of this man's writing.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Bess, Oh, Where Is My Bess?

Track

Bess, Oh Where's My Bess

Artist

Miles Davis (flugelhorn) and Gil Evans (arranger)

CD

Porgy and Bess (Columbia/Legacy 712764)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (flugelhorn), Gil Evans (arranger), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Johnny Coles (trumpet), Bernie Glow (trumpet), Louis Mucci (trumpet), Ernie Royal (trumpet), Joe Bennett (trombone), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Frank Rehak (trombone), Dick Hixson (bass trombone), Willie Ruff (French horn), Gunther Schuller (French horn), Julius Watkins (French horn), Bill Barber (tuba), Jerome Richardson (flute), Romeo Penque (flute), Danny Bank (bass clarinet), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax).

Composed by George Gershwin.

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Recorded: Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC, August 4, 1958

Albumcovermilesdavisp_bag275

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

How does one pick a favorite piece from Gil's and Miles' Porgy and Bess album? Tough to do. I've chosen this piece because it so perfectly illustrates another unique aspect of Gil's writing. Sometimes when I listen to Gil, I get a spontaneous visualization of the inside of a watch: the perfection, the detail, all the little parts at work; nothing is there that doesn't contribute to the flow of movement and the perfect passing of time. Every gear attaches and locks another into motion. If you listen to this piece, you can envision a serpentine line being passed from instrument to instrument, color to color, whether it's behind Miles or in front when he's not playing. It's like a thread that never gets dropped. Let's start at the top with the French horns and alto flutes that are playing a flowing passage together. Then the horns hold while the flutes go on their own, giving way to the trombones, who take over, then the flutes pick up a line above them, and then soft brass (the trumpets are in hat mutes with French horns voiced with them). You can continue on through the piece and follow the slow-moving gears as lines pass around the orchestra. This piece also goes into a little swing section where the trombones take on Gil's signature comping role that the piano might have taken if there was piano on the record. That's a unique aspect to these Gil/Miles recordings. There's an absence of piano. It leaves all the harmonic background to the creative hand of Gil.

One further detail. Because these pieces are a suite, their connectivity is really important. Take note how the end of this arrangement suddenly introduces a very stark, open, spare sound. It contrasts all the lushness we've been hearing. That spare sound is achieved by utilizing open-fifth intervals in the ensemble. It also happens to be the same opening interval of the next movement, Prayer. So this ending is really more of a "transition" to Prayer. Much of the elegance of these collaborative recordings is how each subsequent piece begins with a feeling of inevitable arrival. Gil leaves no stone unturned.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)

Track

Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Gil Evans (arranger)

CD

Sketches of Spain (Sony 1207)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet, flugelhorn), Gil Evans (arranger), Bernie Glow (trumpet), Taft Jordan (trumpet), Louis Mucci (trumpet), Ernie Royal (trumpet), Dick Hixson (trombone), Frank Rehak (trombone), Jimmy Buffington (French horn), Danny Bank (bass clarinet), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Elvin Jones (percussion),

John Barrows (French horn), Earl Chapin (French horn), Jimmy McAllister (tuba), Albert Block (flute), Eddie Caine (flute), Harold Feldman (oboe, clarinet), Janet Putnam (harp)

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Composed by Joaquin Rodrigo

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Recorded: Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC, November 20, 1959

Albumcoversketchesofspain

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is arguably the finest of Gil's and Miles' collaborations. There are countless details one could highlight, but I would like to touch on two particular points about this piece. It will be more deeply appreciated if you first take the opportunity to listen to the original guitar concerto as composed by Rodrigo. A comparison will illuminate Gil's unique gifts in writing all parts in a linear fashion. It's most notable that he manages to do this even in the bass line. The bass is never just relegated to playing roots, but rather linesrich melodic lines. If you listen to the tuba line in the beginning, you'll catch one of these lines right from the start. And if you listen to the bottom parts throughout this work, you'll see that part of the translucence that Gil generally gets in his music is from freeing up the bottom and putting air in these low parts. Such attention to line-writing permeates every layer and can be heard throughout this piece. The amount of counterpoint exceeds the original by leaps and bounds. If you listen to both versions back to back, this will be very obvious without me pointing out a thing to you. This piece takes what Gil achieved in The Troubador (1947) to a whole other level. The path was certainly well laid in his work with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra.

Gil once expressed to me that the thing that most inspired him about Miles was his sound. This piece perfectly illustrates how beautifully he sets up Miles. Listen to the opening: lines are perpetually moving, the harp undulating in high register, and the castanets fluttering. But the moment Miles enters, sonorities suddenly freeze, motionlessall lines, all undulation, all fluttering stop. This sudden vacuum brings us to focus purely on Miles' horn. It's a stunning moment. It's long been my suspicion that the castanets were supposed to stop a couple of seconds earlier than you'll hear on your recording. And sure enough, if you listen to the out-take on the boxed set, they stop the moment Miles enters, as was most certainly intended. You'll hear many other moments in this piece that showcase Miles in a similarly stunning way.

One of my favorite places in this piece comes at 5:44. I love the low flutes with wide vibrato that play and hesitate (there's a bassoon, French horn and harp voiced in those chords too, with an almost inaudible timpani in the background giving the slightest hint of motion). It's a very rubato (without strict time) section. I love how Gil utilizes Miles lowest range on the instrument. It's utterly haunting. There's a wonderful shift of color to brightness when Miles goes to Harmon mute, with cup-muted trumpets and flutes voiced behind him (9:30) giving a tangy sound. When the French horns enter at 10:11, they sound so warm by contrast as they play in sonorous parallel moving triads. That kind of harmonic movement is one way Gil gets the smooth sound that we've come to associate with him. The subtle moan in their parts is so expressive (10:28). Now the cup-muted trumpets, harp and flute all take over before you hear descending lines that slow us down. Here, Gil starts to set up anticipation for the large ensemble passage that will soon become the climax of the entire piece. He leads up to it using parallel triadic French horns again, voiced with flutes and harp. There's a counterline in the bassoon, a wonderful color to be appreciated throughout this piece. The castanets are going along throughout, helping the build. At 12:46 the tambourine color enters, and we are overwhelmed by a wonderful full-ensemble orchestration of the main theme. You'll hear moments of parallel and then contrary motion. I particularly love 13:26, where you can especially catch the essence of the parallel triadic motion in all parts. Listen to the French horns inside the ensemble. That lead note reaches the very top of the instrument range in the lead French horn at 13:36, and it just soars! And the triadic 16-notes at 13:46 are just so exciting. Conducting this section and hearing it surround you in live concert is a trip. Every hair stands on end.

This is followed up by all sorts of detailed, muted, impressionistic "color" accompanying very low lines in the tuba and bass. It comes down to such spareness and fragility with just a lone tuba, harp and bass behind Miles at 15:32. I love the passing of lines from the bassoon, to the Harmon trumpet, and finally to Miles at the very end. Whew!

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Once Upon A Summertime

Track

Once Upon a Summertime

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet) and Gil Evans (arranger)

CD

Quiet Nights (Columbia 2106)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), Gil Evans (arranger),

Johnny Coles, Bernie Glow, Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal (trumpet); Dick Hixson, Jimmy Knepper, Frank Rehak (trombones); Paul Ingraham, Robert Swisshelm, Julius Watkins (French horns); Bill Barber (tuba); Danny Bank, Eddie Caine, Romeo Penque, Jerome Richardson, Bob Tricarico (woodwinds); Janet Putman (harp); Jimmy Cobb (drums); Elvin Jones, Bobby Rosengarden (percussion)

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Composed by Michel Legrand

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Recorded: New York, November 6, 1962

Miles_davis_quiet_nights

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Quiet Nights was a record that neither Miles or Gil wanted to have come out. And in a way, I understand that, as it doesn't have a cohesive whole that even comes close to matching their other collaborations. But, that being said, there are some absolutely gorgeous things on this albumand again, it's just so hard to pick one cut. But I have to say, this one I've chosen KILLS me! It begins with a fluttering harp along with the woodwinds. How about that sudden cup mute zinger chord at 0:17? It's just SO Gil. After that, the chords simply hover almost motionless when Miles comes in so gorgeously on the melody. You can hear the lyrics in every note of his playing! The harp fluttering keeps just a little motion passing through the air, as does the slowly descending line in the inner ensemble. That descent creates a powerful feeling of yearning as it presses against the slow passing of time. Everything really feels as if it's hovering in the air, keeping us almost holding our breath in waiting, not only because of the harp, hovering chords and descending line, but also because there's no bass grounding us yet. Only at 0:52, when the bass begins playing pizzicato, do we start to get more settled. How did Gil manage to foresee and coordinate all these layers that create such a deep, deep expression? Did he know what he was doing? How I wish I knew then what I know now. How many questions I would ask! Ha, and Gil probably would have run out of the room!

OK, going on: Listen to the lovely tuba and bass clarinet with the bass at 1:04what laziness and beauty! Another absolutely magical moment is the perfectly executed harp ritard at 1:21 that sets us into an even slower waltz tempo. Oh dear, now my heart is really aching. The inner lines in the bassoon at 1:35 to 1:50 are so compelling. 1:58 is just searing! Check out to those high voicings moving in parallel motion! Wow. And how did he think to suddenly bring in such high trumpets? What a brave move! Then there's the shift he makes in the sonic universe at 2:07. This is genius! And how great they played it! Listen to the inner descent at 2:30. Now at 2:47 you'll hear the intro recalled. What was in the woodwinds on the intro is now in the French horns, also with the harp fluttering as before. If this piece doesn't doesn't send you to heaven, then I can't help you.

Looking back to 1988, I'm recalling the time when on the phone Gil asked me to come over and discuss my music. It was not long before he died. Well, we never got the chance for that. It's been one of the regrets in my life. Listening to this and all of the pieces I'm analyzing, I have to say, I'm getting getting my chance now, because just about any lesson to be learned about music of any kindand certainly mine includedis here.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Gil Evans: Stratusphunk

Track

Stratusphunk

Group

The Gil Evans Orchestra

CD

Out of the Cool (Impulse IMPD-186)

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Musicians:

Gil Evans (piano, arranger), Johnny Coles (trumpet), Ray Crawford (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), Charlie Persip (drums), Elvin Jones (percussion),

Phil Sunkel (trumpet); Jimmy Knepper, Keg Johnson (trombones); Tony Studd (bass trombone); Bill Barber (tuba); Eddie Caine (flute, piccolo, alto saxophone) Budd Johnson (tenor saxophone); Bob Tricarico (bassoon, flute, piccolo)

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Composed by George Russell.

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Recorded: November 18, 1960

Gil_evans_out_of_the_cool

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

I remember when I first heard this album during college. It had a huge effect on me. I loved the angularity, the humor, the sheer craziness of it. For starters, it likely influenced my conception of what a great bass trombone should sound like. Listen to Tony Studd play the opening melody as he plays alone with only the drums playing brushes. Technically it's a blues, but it takes a while before you realize that. One already knows from the intro that this piece is going to go to some pretty far-reaching places when you hear that big, high brass pyramid right off the bat. And what a great sound from the slap-tongued statement of the melody at 0:37 (apparently something conceived at the recording session). The bass trombone continues for a little bit before making a perfect decrescendo that melds right into the walking bass as he passes the baton. I love that Gil staggered these entrances and exits. It makes it wonderfully organic. The pitches of the melody become clearer as a few horns enter with edgy "color." Tony Studd comes back, and the wildness ensues as the two tenor trombones play bizarrely and harmonically ungrounded notes in the middle range between the bass trombone and the melody. There's a lot of character here, but one becomes really confused as to where they are in terms of key, form or pretty much everything else. It's quirky fun, and one relishes being lost.

The sudden full-shout ensemble (1:532:06) starts to ground us harmonically, rhythmically and phrase-wise to a more conventional place, and releases us in a very contrasting, sudden and humorous way to a blues guitar solo by Ray Crawford. At 3:33, Gil enters on piano for the first time with his quirky and personal way of comping. He's the perfect pianist for his own music. The trombones now play a riff similar to what Gil just played, and he starts to answer them. The guitar is still going as layers are added. At 4:24, more instruments enter the ensemble, which starts to move into a wild direction harmonically. It almost sounds like we're going to head into a new solo, maybe even a new key, but then it becomes clear that Gil is just playing with us as he brings us back down again to the understated guitar solo. At 4:50, a similar ensemble passage comes in, but much bigger, more intense and dissonant, wonderfully sloppy, and with a low, especially sloppy blast on the end. Then we're off a cliff again to a trumpet solo by Johnny Coles. He's one of my favorite soloists used by Gil on his music. These contrasts are off-the-scale! Soon we shift to the entire ensemble playing the tune in a thick mess of almost indecipherable harmony while the bass trombone is back on the bottom walking with the bass! I love Gil's little tremolo behind it all. This is sumptuous, fun music.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Gil Evans: The Barbara Song

Track

The Barbara Song

Artist

Gil Evans (piano, arranger)

CD

The Individualism of Gil Evans (Verve 833 804-2)

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Musicians:

Gil Evans (piano, arranger), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Gary Peacock (bass), Elvin Jones (drums),

Frank Rehak (trombone), Ray Alonge, Julius Watkins (French horns), Bill Barber (tuba), Al Block (flute), Andy Fitzgerald (bass flute), George Marge (English horn), Bob Tricarico (bassoon), Bob Maxwell (harp)

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Composed by Kurt Weill

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, July 9, 1964

Albumcovergilevansindividualism

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

When I first heard this arrangement, I was immediately in love with it. I thought of it as a "Gil piece," not an arrangement of something. One day, it occurred to me to check out Kurt Weill's original version. And there it was, the whole long and developed melodic contour that I was familiar with. Gil had simply laid it out, but he did it in such a way that made it feel improvised and continually evolving. The character Gil created was so completely different than that of Weill's original song, that I would have never guessed Weill's song had this lyric: "No you don't just smile and pull your panties down when you have the chance of saying no." Through the melody, Gil heard profound depth, and spun his own universe out of it. If you don't know these pieces, I recommend first listening to Gil's and then purchasing the original from the original cast album on iTunes. You'll hear how Gil's lines are just Weill's original melody, but wrung out at a slow, searing tempo. But then there's so much more to it.

How does Gil manage simply to take such a melody and make it entirely his? Well, here it starts with the combination of brushes, harp and bass flute, followed soon thereafter by a double reed, creating a combination of colors that few others would have used. Then there's the atmospheric texture of the rolling bass flute, and Gil's signature feeling of time and no-time all at once. (Gil is adept at creating a feel of imprecision by using very precise notationan effect that no one I know can match.)

Also note Gil's gestures on piano that are as personal as a fingerprint. You'll also hear that ever-present tuba. The muted horn stab at 1:32 could only be his. But my favorite part starts at 2:10. He does a run-up to a high sonority, a sonority that then slowly shifts and descends like a long, slow exhale. In this passage, you'll hear the melody on top, and inside, a wonderful, slow, descending mostly-chromatic line that, when it stops descending, continues to hold its final note for another 20 seconds until we reach another similar passage. The line writing as this passage descends is beyond spectacular. No one can make slow more compelling than Gil, and he does it all with lines. At 3:21 the melody is voiced in a stark way which has the odd interval of the minor-ninth, an interval that's also evident in much of Gil's piano accompaniment here. That dissonant minor-ninth is a no-no in many arranging classes, but Gil built a world on that interval.

When Gil introduces Wayne Shorter's tenor solo we're already over five minutes into the piece, and that in itself is unique in the world of jazz arranging. Wayne plays gracefully over the low pyramids, and gesturally behind a crying flute and bassoon as they sing in unison double-octaves. This man finds endless colors in infinite combinations. The whole piece just weeps with beauty. I give this 500 points out of 100. It breaks through the roof of any point rating, because this is music that goes way beyond music.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Gil Evans: Zee Zee

Track

Zee Zee

Group

Gil Evans Orchestra

CD

Svengali (Koch Jazz KOC-CD-8518)

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Musicians:

Gil Evans (electric piano, arranger), Marvin Hannibal Peterson (trumpet),

Richard Williams (trumpet); Joseph Daley (tuba); Sharon Freeman, Pete Levin (French horn); Billy Harper (tenor saxophone); Howard Johnson (tuba, woodwinds); Trevor Koehler (woodwinds); David Sanborn (alto saxophone); David Horowitz (synthesizer); Ted Dunbar (electric guitar); Herb Bushler (electric bass); Bruce Ditmas (drums); Sue Evans (percussion)

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Composed by Gil Evans

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Recorded: Philarmonic Hall, New York, June 30, 1973

Gil_evans_svengali

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

It's hard for me to decide which song to take from Svengali. This album shook my world in about 1982, when I heard it for the first time. The whole thing has such a mystery to it. It was while listening to Zee Zee that I saw myself one day working with Gil. At the time, seeing that in my mind didn't register as any true reality that would come to be, but, bizarrely and by sheer coincidence, it became reality. The piece is largely about atmosphere. The musical idea is simple. All the chords are moving chromatically in parallel motion and the bass simply passes from a minor I to a minor IV chord. There are chimes moving in the same pattern. To me, it recalls the wind, but the wind in a dark, brewing storm, the kind that blows through the window, shakes the shutter and turns the air green. Perhaps you have to come from tornado country to relate to that, but that's where it takes me, and it's interesting that the last sound is the sound of wind. I just love the essence of this. And I love that it's all played out of time. Everyone just breathes and sighs the figure in tandem as Hannibal Marvin Peterson slowly builds in intensity and finally just wails over it. This piece is a total distillation of Gil to the most extreme: the type of harmony, the quirky intervals, the colors, the linearity, attention to the soloist, and, above all, the attention to evoking something that, once again, goes beyond music. How can something that is so spare compositionally and with so much free improvisation still be so completely and utterly Gil?

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Gil Evans: Up From the Skies

Track

Up From the Skies

Group

Gil Evans Orchestra

CD

The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix (RCA)

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Musicians:

Gil Evans (keyboards, arranger, conductor),

Marvin “Hannibal” Peterson, Lew Soloff (trumpet); Peter Gordon (French horn); Peter Levin (fhr,synt); Tom Malone (trombone, bass trombone); Howard Johnson (tuba, woodwinds); David Sanborn (woodwinds, Billy Harper, Trevor Koehler (woodwinds); David Horowitz (keyboards); John Abercrombie, Ryo Kawasaki (electric guitars); Keith Loving (guitar) Michael Moore (electric bass); Don Pate (bass); Bruce Ditmas (drums); Susan Evans,Warren Smith Jr. (percussion)

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Composed by Jimi Hendrix. Arranged by Gil Evans

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Recorded: New York, June 11, 1974

Gil_evans_plays_the_music_of_jimi_hendrix

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

It is a must to pick one of the pieces that Gil played regularly at Sweet Basil's jazz club in Manhattan with the last band he had. This was always my favorite. It's sonic fun! Who else on the planet could find a way to voice out a Hendrix tune and make it so completely hip, and retain something of the gutsiness that Hendrix had in his sound? Only Gil. I love where the bass clarinet lies in the voicings in relationship to the melody. There's grit and ease at the same time. It's just deliciously left of center. I love the spirit of the band and how they offer variation and nuance to the tune with the synthesizers and guitar. It's so joyful. I got to see a sketch of this, and was shocked when I noticed that in harmonizing this melody Gil employed a technique very familiar to young arrangers called "drop-2." We all tend to think of this technique as formulaic and non-creative. It's the sound you'd hear in just about every sax soli in big band music. How Gil made it sound so fresh here is a mystery. Is it the character of the melody coupled with the way Gil tweaked the harmony within drop-2? I need more time to understand this myself. There's even a story (I hope I have this right!) that Gerry Mulligan used to tell, where Gil came running up to him in utter amazement and enthusiasm about his new discovery about Duke Ellington. It was the last thing Gerry expected to hear when Gil exclaimed, "He uses DROP-2!!!!!" Or was it Gerry who told Gil? I can't remember, but it was me screaming the same thing last week. "Gil used drop-2!!!!" Bask in the joy of this cut.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


Dutch Jazz Orchestra: Easy Living Medley (Easy Living/Everything Happens to Me/Moon Dreams)

Track

Easy Living Medley (Easy Living/Everything Happens to Me/Moon Dreams)

Group

Dutch Jazz Orchestra

CD

Moon Dreams: Rediscovered Music of Gil Evans & Gerry Mulligan (Challenge, CHL 73275)

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Musicians:

Jeanine Abbas (flute); Marco Kegel (clarinet, saxophone, alto saxophone); Jan Oosthof (trumpet); Eric Ineke (drums); Martijn Van Iterson (guitar); Simon Rigter (flute, tenor saxophone); Albert Beltman (clarinet, alto saxophone); Ab Schaap (clarinet, tenor saxophone); John Ruocco (clarinet); Nils Van Haften (bass clarinet, baritone saxophone); Jan Hollander, Ray Bruinsma, Mike Booth, Ruud Breuls, Erik Veldkamp (trumpet); Morris Kliphuis, Roel Koster, Rene Pagen (French horn); Martijn Sohier, Ilja Reijngoud (trombone); Martien De Kam (tuba); Rob Van Bavel (piano); Jan Voogd (bass instrument)

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Composed by Gil Evans. Arranged by Gil Evans

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Recorded: 2009

Dutch_jazz_orchestra_moon_dreams

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

For my last choice I'm going to offer something that 99% of you will not have heard, because it seems not to have been recorded until recently. To have a new work by Gil emerge out of the ether is to be bestowed with a gift more valuable than gold. Here is one such magical gift. In the liner notes of this album, they say he was experimenting with a new band that he'd only rehearsed. The instrumentation of this work consists of 3 flutes, 5 reeds, 2 French horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, guitar, piano, bass and drums. It seems far more likely that this is actually something from the Claude Thornhill band collection that was never recorded, or for which the tapes were lost. This piece has the precise instrumentation of The Troubadour and several other of Gil's arrangements that Thornhill recorded in the same period (1946-1947). That offers a big clue. Never mind, thoughthe point is, it's gorgeous. Of course, we all know Moon Dreams from Birth of the Cool, but here it is in even fuller orchestration. And clearly, then, the nonet version was a paring-down of this much more orchestral version written probably around three years before Birth of the Cool. This medley exhibits every characteristic that I've talked of until now: the exquisite inner melodies, the airy tuba parts, the delicate details that dovetail into each other moving from color to color in the orchestra. Just sit back, shut your eyes, and bathe in the sheer gorgeousness of this long-lost Gil Evans treasure.

Reviewer: Maria Schneider


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