Gil Evans Centennial Celebration! New York Times Article (Part1)
Showcasing a Jazz Legacy From Big Band to Hendrix
By NATE CHINEN
Published: May 16, 2012
That’s worth remembering now, in the face of two big commemorative events. The first, Thursday through Sunday at the Jazz Standard, features the same ensemble heard on “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans,” an extraordinary album released this week on what would have been Evans’s 100th birthday. The second, next Monday at the Highline Ballroom, will showcase the Gil Evans Orchestra, stocked with alumni and guests and led by the bandleader’s son Miles Evans. Both engagements seem likely to shed new light on Evans as a composer and arranger, which says something about the enduring mystique of his art.
Evans, who died in 1988, has hardly been an obscure figure in jazz. His orchestral work with Miles Davis, especially on the albums “Porgy and Bess” (1958) and “Sketches of Spain” (1960), is widely and justly revered. But the writing he did later, for his own ensembles — and earlier, for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in the 1940s — still belongs largely to the realm of the connoisseur. In addition to landmark albums like “Out of the Cool” and “The Individualism of Gil Evans,” the Gil Evans legacy encompasses a lot of murky sprawl. It’s impossible to wrap your arms, or your head, around all of it.
At the same time, so much of his vocabulary has been absorbed into the language of jazz orchestration that he can be easy to take for granted. A devotee of classical impressionism, he was obsessive about blends of timbre, often scoring tightly voiced chords for unusual clutches of instruments like French horn and bassoon. He had a way of implying both airiness and compression in his writing, along with a swirling subtlety of movement.
His legacy lives on in the conservatory, naturally, and in occasional tributes like “Sketches of Gil Evans,” presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2007. But it has burned brightest in the expertise of former protégés like the composer Maria Schneider, who had a formative tenure as his copyist and assistant. One of the most impressive feats of jazz repertory I’ve ever heard was at Carnegie Hall in 2000, when Ms. Schneider conducted “Porgy and Bess” and “Sketches of Spain,” bringing a penetrating clarity and three-dimensionality to the music.