Gil Evans (1912-1988) was born Ivan Green. Following his nomadic mother, he ended up in California. In 1927 he bought his first Louis Armstrong record and, with a friend, went to San Francisco to see Duke Ellington's orchestra. Without formal musical training, he picked up on music as a natural, co-leading a ten-piece local dance band. He hired trumpeter Jimmie Maxwell, who later was to go with the Goodman band. They became life-long friends and Maxwell is interviewed for the book.
Evans' early arrangements were influenced by the Casa Loma Orchestra, which featured softly arranged romantic ballads. But it was Benny Goodman's swing that really interested Evans. He went on to arrange for the Skinnay Ennis band, featured on Bob Hope's radio show. Ennis hired Claude Thornhill to do arrangements and Evans and Thornhill would soon join together to create some of the most fascinating instrumentations in big band history. In 1941, Thornhill hired Evans, who favored Thornhill's symphony-oriented style, using French horns, a tuba and a wide range of moods and tempos. Living in New York City during the 1940s, Evans confronted another genre of jazz - bebop.
Hicock follows Evans' career and life by using the words of his many friends, collaborators, musicians and family. There seems to be no doubt that Evans was a kind, loving and fascinating individual whose entire adult life was dedicated to music, music, music. He lived through the entire scope of changes that resulted in many innovations in jazz. Readers will gain insights into how Evans and others went with - or against - these changes.
Living an almost mendicant life in New York City, he met up with Miles Davis, the man who would make him famous. With the help of George Avakian at Columbia Records, Evans and Davis produced Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. Hicock provides interesting reflections on the production and importance of these recordings. Evans and Davis remained life-long friends and collaborated on many recordings and concerts.
As new wave and free form jazz began in the 1960s, Evans didn't take a complete liking to all of it. However, he realized that some fusion jazz made it possible for him to incorporate electric instruments in his arrangements. He was a pianist and enjoyed playing the Fender Rhodes keyboard. He had experimented with different instrumental arrangements since the Thornhill days. Hicock rightly points out that Evans was always out to improve his arranging and compositional skills, so why not fusion?
He won a Grammy in 1965 and arranged for Johnny Mathis. With Astrud Gilberto, he was the arranger for another best-selling recording, Quiet Nights. In 1968, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship of $9,000. He formed several bands and in the 1970s and 1980s traveled the world with those bands. He was astounded when 30,000 to 60,000 people turned out for his jazz events in Europe and Japan.
Somewhat out of favor in America, many foreign companies recorded his overseas concerts and put them out on their labels. Back in America, he formed a band that played every Monday night at Sweet Basil's in New York City. Mondays were good for musicians, because they could sit in with Evans' band. Among those doing so was John Faddis. He also made friends with Sting, who also dropped in to sing and play with the band.
There was no slowing Evans down. He loved to compose, arrange and conduct his bands. For readers familiar with Evans' compositions, they will find details about his skills and recordings. For those less familiar with Evans' collective works, they will be astounded by what this one man did.
The book ends with an account of the memorial given for him on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1988, with 500 people in attendance at St. Peter's Lutheran Church. John Simon's commented, "Few individuals in this world have left us with greater, nobler thoughts and deeds than these. Fewer still had such a wonderful time along the way."Gil Evans (1912-1988) was born Ivan Green. Following his nomadic mother, he ended up in California. In 1927 he bought his first Louis Armstrong record and, with a friend, went to San Francisco to see Duke Ellington's orchestra. Without formal musical training, he picked up on music as a natural, co-leading a ten-piece local dance band. He hired trumpeter Jimmie Maxwell, who later was to go with the Goodman band. They became life-long friends and Maxwell is interviewed for the book.