Here are the program notes/Gil Evans biography of the upcoming Oct. 20th, 7:30 p.m. Tennessee Jazz Collective Concert, where we perform the music of Gil Evans:
Ian Ernest Gilmore “Gil” Evans (1912 – 1988) was a jazz pianist, arranger and composer who figured prominently in the world of jazz in the 1940s through the 1980s. Growing up in Stockton, California, he started learning piano from his friend’s father – an avid jazz fan. Evans remembered, “When I was coming up, radio was the big thing—there were broadcasts from all over the place. Louis Armstrong came on all the time, and so did Duke and the Casa Loma Band…I caught all these broadcasts as much as I could and it was a wonderful education.” While in high school he would organize his first band and laboriously copy arrangements off of recordings. Upon graduation, Evans attended the College of the Pacific, and his orchestra grew to 9 pieces, becoming locally and regionally popular. Early on he became known for making his arrangements sound larger and colorful than most arrangers.
The Gil Evans Orchestra would be taken over by vocalist Skinnay Ennis, and Evans stayed on as an arranger, along with another arranger - pianist Claude Thornhill. The organization eventually toured as the band for comedian Bob Hope, giving them an opportunity to travel to New York City. Evans said, “I saw Roy Eldridge (who is the greatest I ever heard) and Billie Holiday (who is beautiful and the greatest I ever heard).” Several months later Thornhill formed his own orchestra, appearing at the Glen Island Casino, a New York area club. Thornhill later hired Evans as an arranger, giving him the chance to write for the beautiful woodwinds and French horns that the unit utilized. Tonight’s program includes three of these arrangements: How About You, Hang Out the Stars in Indiana, and Sorta Kinda.
World War II disrupted and disbanded the Thornhill organization, and Evans served in an army band until his discharge in 1946. After a short visit to family, he took a cross country train trip to New York City, the hot-bed of the newest form of jazz – bebop. Setting up an apartment at West 55th Street, it would become a meeting place for jazz artists: Gerry Mulligan was a roommate, and Lee Konitz, Johnny Carisi, John Lewis, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie were all frequent visitors. The most serendipitous meeting was with Miles Davis, who would become a close collaborator for many years to come. The atmosphere of cooperation resulted in the historic recordings and performances by the short-lived Miles Davis Nonet of 1949 and 1950.
The early 1950s were a struggle for Evans, but he soon turned the corner with work for vocalists Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, and Helen Merrill, and would later reconnect with Davis for three stunning large-ensemble efforts: Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain. Blues for Pablo, New Rhumba, and My Ship are 3 selections on the program that represent his groundbreaking work with Miles. At the same time, Evans developed his work as a bandleader. In 1957, Evans recorded his first album as a leader, Gil Evans Plus Ten, featuring soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. The ability to compose for specific soloists enhanced Evans’ reputation, and brought forth several new studio recording projects, most notably New Bottle, Old Wine, featuring Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone. Representative of recordings under his own name on the program are Just One of Those Things, Davenport Blues, Lester Leaps In, Round Midnight, Manteca, and Time of the Barracudas. Time of the Barracudas is representative of his forward thinking approach to post-bop jazz in the 1960s.
Throughout the 1960s Evans repertoire expanded with collaborations with various artists, a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for composition in 1968, and in the 1970s interest in the music of guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The 1980s saw the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra taking up residence weekly in Greenwich Village, working with a whole new generation of jazz musicians set on developing jazz into more extended techniques rhythmically and formally. The group would be in demand, doing a tour of Europe and collaborating with the pop artist Sting. Arranger and composer Maria Schneider, Evans’ assistant in his final years, said of him “Gil had all sorts of ways to do things that are not in the books, and they all had a consistent logic. It was a little bit of a parallel universe that went by its own mathematical rules.”
Gil Evans died on March 20, 1988 in Mexico. With him were his sons, along with a keyboard and a pile of arrangements.
Gil Evans: Out of the Cool by Stephanie Crease (Chicago Review Press, 2001)