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Gil Evans

(1912 – 1988)

Ian Ernest Gilmore Evans was a Canadian American jazz pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader.  Evans became interested in music at an early age, listening to Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Fletcher Henderson on the radio and on records. He studied the piano and began learning how to arrange music, and started picking up jobs with local musicians. It was said that Evans could hear a song once and write the whole arrangement from memory. While in college, he founded his first band, which performed his arrangements, and which became the house band at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, California in 1935. The band toured the Pacific Northwest in 1937 and eventually settled in Hollywood, where they regularly performed on Bob Hope’s radio show. Evans’ arrangements from this time showed the influence of classical music, and included instruments such as French horns, flutes, and tubas.

Between 1941 and 1948, Evans worked as an arranger for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra.  Even then, early in his career, his arrangements were such a challenge to musicians that bassist Bill Crow recalled that bandleader Thornhill would bring out Evans’s arrangements “when he wanted to punish the band.”

In 1948, Evans, with Miles Davis, Mulligan, and others, collaborated on a band book for a nonet. These ensembles, larger than the trio-to-quintet combos, but smaller than big bands which were on the brink of economic unviability, allowed arrangers to have a larger palette of colors by using French horns and tuba.  The Miles Davis-led group was booked for a week at the Royal Roost as an intermission group on the bill with the Count Basie Orchestra. Capitol Records recorded 12 numbers by the nonet at three sessions in 1949 and 1950. These recordings were reissued on a 1957 Miles Davis LP titled Birth of the Cool.  Later, while Davis was under contract with Columbia Records, producer George Avakian suggested that Davis could work with any of several arrangers. Davis immediately chose Evans.  The three albums that resulted from the collaboration are Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), and Sketches of Spain (1960)

These records expanded and changed the music irrevocably.  Evans is most known for his continuing collaborations with Davis but he also leda legendary big band for years in New York. His basement apartment behind a Chinese laundry was a mythical landmark of the music and a place where many new ideas were incubated.

Evans has exerted a huge influence on the music and has even been sampled by J Dilla.

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