Music

Gil Evans

Born 13 May 1912. Died 20 March 1988.
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Jazz Library - Gil Evans

Alyn Shipton is joined by John Walters to pick the best recordings by Gil Evans.

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Biography

One of the most unorthodox and revolutionary arrangers in jazz, Gil Evans explored orchestral colour and texture with extraordinary skill, frequently using just a handful of instruments to create the illusion of much larger forces, and introducing the timbres of French horn and orchestral tuba to the big band brass section.

His itinerant background took him from Canada to California, where he led his own bands in the 1930s. In the 1940s he joined Claude Thornhill's orchestra, and in writing for it combined his interest in European impressionist composers with the newly emergent sounds of bebop.

This was the background for his first important collaboration with Miles Davis in 1948-50, which became known as Birth of the Cool. On this album, Evans arranged such pieces as Boplicity for a nonet, but in the mid-50s he was reunited with Davis on a series of projects for trumpet solo and big band.

These are Evans's most celebrated works, and the best-known are the three albums Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain, the last-named dating from 1960. During this time he made some of his own big band discs, and in the 1960s and 1970s he led several of his own line-ups, eventually ending up with a regular Monday night band in New York that he led through the 1980s until his death.

In these he added electronic instruments, and as well as producing a stream of original compositions, arranged music by Jimi Hendrix and Charles Mingus, among others. The band continued after his death under the leadership of his son, Miles Evans.

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