Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Ian Ernest Gilmore Green, 13 May 1912, Toronto, Canada; d 20 March 1988, Cuernavaca, Mexico) Pianist, arranger, bandleader. He led a band in California 1933-8; Skinnay Ennis took it over and Evans stayed on as arranger for spots on Bob Hope's radio show, and the band played top hotels. With Claude Thornhill 1941-8 except for military service '43-5; his arrangements for Thornhill included three Charlie Parker tunes ('Thrivin' On A Riff', 'Donna Lee' and 'Yardbird Suite', all '47); his other work contained innovative colours and he became a 'guru' (said George Russell, whose basement flat in NYC was a meeting place for Russell, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, others). See the entry for the seminal Thornhill band.

Evans contributed to Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool sessions in 1949; he wrote for Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Benny Goodman etc; arranged and cond. albums Look To The Rainbow with Astrud Gilberto and Guitar Forms with Kenny Burrell, but his best-known albums were made with Davis, produced by Teo Macero: Miles Ahead '57, Porgy And Bess '58, Sketches Of Spain '59, At Carnegie Hall '61, Quiet Nights '62-3, all landmark material, later in boxed sets of Mosaic LPs or Columbia CDs including unreleased tracks. The collection includes snippets that reveal working methods and also the label's experiments in editing difficult recording sessions; see Davis's entry.

Evans's own albums included Gil Evans And Ten '57 on Prestige (aka The Arranger's Touch or Big Stuff), New Bottle, Old Wine with Cannonball Adderley and Great Jazz Standards '58-9 on World Pacific (later Pacific Standard Time on Blue Note). Brian Priestley pointed out that on 'St Louis Blues', an Adderley solo is answered by a brass figure which turns out to be a favourite Leadbelly guitar fill: Evans's charts are full of this sort of enthusiast's intelligence, his music unlike anyone else's; although he liked to write for larger groups they were not 'swing bands': he dispensed with the traditional unison reed section for example, creating his own unique atmosphere, full of space. Of the famous albums Out Of The Cool and Into The Hot on Impulse '60-1 the latter was Evans's production of music by Cecil Taylor and Johnny Carisi. Other Evans classics are The Individualism Of Gil Evans '63-4 on Verve, Where Flamingos Fly '71 on Artists House, Svengali '74 on Atlantic, Plays Jimi Hendrix '74 and There Comes A Time '75 on RCA (later on Bluebird): he once hoped to do an album with Hendrix, and for the CD reissue of There Comes A Time Evans was invited to remix and re-compile it, making it one of the more intelligent CD reissues. The rest of the all-too-short discography: Montreux Festival '74 on Philips, Synthetic Evans '76 on Poljazz (made in Warsaw), Priestess '77 on Antilles, At The Royal Festival Hall '78 on French RCA (more tracks issued on Mole), Parabola '78 on Italian Horo, Little Wing '78 live in Germany on Inner City, Live At The Public Theatre '80 on Japanese Trio, The British Orchestra '83 on Mole (live at St George's Hall in Bradford with Guy Barker, John Surman, Don Weller etc), Blues In Orbit '82 on Enja, Live At Sweet Basil '84 with the Monday Night Orchestra on Gramavision/Electric Bird, in memoriam Bud And Bird '86 on ProJazz, again live at Sweet Basil.

Evans's 75th birthday was celebrated with a concert in London '87; his last recordings were Collaboration with singer Helen Merrill, re-creating an album they did in the 1950s, and a duo with Steve Lacy, on EmArcy and Owl respectively. His erstwhile assistant Maria Schneider carries on the tradition with her own uniquely beautiful voice, and encourages a new generation: composer and arranger Ryan Truesdell was allowed access by the family to Evans's manuscripts and discovered arrangements that had never been performed; Schneider urged him to form a band and record them, and The Gil Evans Project recorded Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans (ArtistShare, 2012) and the album was nominated for three Grammies in 2013, winning Best Instrumental Arrangement for 'How About You'. Truesdell continued digging, even contacting the families of Evans's collaborators, and released Lines Of Color: LIve At Jazz Standard (Blue Note/ArtistShare, 2015). Darcy James Argue, also influenced by Bob Brookmeyer, is another entrant in the Evans regatta; his big band Secret Society is heard on Infernal Machines 2009 and Brooklyn Babylon 2013 on New Amsterdam.