May 7, 2012
May 13 will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gil Evans, one of Jazz’s greatest bandleader/composer/arrangers. First as a member of, and arranger for, the highly influential Claude Thornhill Orchestra in the early 1940’s, and then as a long-time collaborator with Miles Davis, Evans re-wrote the book on instrumentation and sound for jazz combos.
It would not be an overstatement to suggest that there might not have been a “cool jazz” or even a “modal jazz” sound without Evans. In 1942, he helped put together and write the book for a nonet whose members included Miles Davis, John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan. That group played the Royal Roost for a week, and then recorded an album’s worth of material that became known as The Birth of the Cool. Although initially released in 1948 and 1949, the full album did not appear until 1957. By that time, the lush sounds, “cool” phrasings and unusual instrumentation (French horns?) had reshaped forwarding thinking musicians’ thoughts on what was “jazz”.
From 1957 to 1960, Evans collaborated with Davis on three classic albums – Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. Wildly popular and hugely influential, these albums re-imagined the Big Band and the jazz soloist in new and different ways. It’s said that Evans worked with Davis on his quintet recordings of the time as well, giving his thoughts on material that ended up being Kind of Blue.
To celebrate the Evans Centennial, bandleader/composer/arranger Ryan Truesdell has put together Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, an impressive collection of previously unrecorded arrangements discovered during Truesdell’s work with the Evans family. Throughout this process, he discovered more than forty works of Evans’ that were never before recorded or released. Urged to record these works, Truesdell gathered an all-star orchestra that includes Steve Wilson and Donnie McCaslin on woodwinds, a rhythm section of James Chirillo (acoustic and electric guitar), Romero Lubambo (acoustic guitar), Frank Kimbrough (piano, harmonium), Jay Anderson (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums), along with vibraphonist Joe Locke and table player Dan Weiss.
In addition to releasing the CD, the Gil Evans Project will perform at the Jazz Standard for a week May 13-20, performing different parts of the Evans oeuvre each night. Truesdell will lead groups at the Umbria and Newport Jazz Festivals later this summer.
I spoke with Truesdell as he was putting the finishing touches on the CD. He spoke animatedly about Evans and the importance of these discoveries. Click here to listen to an illuminating conversation, including musical selections:
Ryan Truesdell – “The Maids of Cadiz” from Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. Known as an inclusion in Miles Ahead, this is a strikingly different version, featuring solos by Dave Pietro (alto saxophone), Frank Kimbrough (piano), and Greg Gisbert (trumpet).
Ryan Truesdell – “Look to the Rainbow” from Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. This E.Y. Harburg/Burton Lane tune was arranged by Evans in 1965 for a project with singer Astrid Gilberto. It was dropped from the final version, and presented here for the first time, with help from Brazilian songstress Luciana Souza.
Ryan Truesdell – Excerpt from “So Long” from Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. Part of a long medley, Truesdell said he knew that Donnie McCaslin, with whom he has worked with in Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, would kill on this solo. You be the judge.
Claude Thornhill & His Orchestra – “Anthropolgy” from Uncollected Claude Thornill & His Orchestra in 1947. It was Thornhill that first dared to have a Big Band that included at one time four vocalists, seven clarinets; two French horns and a tuba. The band on this tune, which was arranged by Gil Evans, features Red Rodney on trumpet and Lee Konitz, on alto sax. Konitz would go on to work with Evans and Davis on The Birth of the Cool.