Jazz Profiles Gil Evans: The Arranger as Re-composer (Part 8)
Gil obviously places a high value on melody in his writing as his original themes or the manner in which he orchestrates the theme of standard tunes have a way of finding themselves into one’s subconscious and staying there a la – “I can’t get this tune out of my head.”
This is in large part because Gil works with melodies to make them easily-remembered short phrases, generally four or eight bars in length and these are often heard in combination with other similar phrases to fashion something akin to a musical mosaic with individual pieces joining together to create a musical whole.
Gil crafts little melodic devices that are wonderful examples of the composer’s art. And he has learned over the years to base his compositions out of the fewest possible melodic building blocks because if there too many melodies, or for that matter, too many rhythms and too many different chords in a piece, the listener can get confused and eventually bored.
And on the subject of chords, the building blocks of harmony, here Gil’s approach involving multi-part harmony is more akin to modern composers such as Debussy, Bartok and Stravinsky than to those of the Classical period.
As Bill Kirchner, Gene Lees and Max Harrison, among others, have noted, the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and textural elements that are combined to make a “cooler” Jazz have been around since the beginnings of the music itself.
In the December 1958 and February 1960 issues of the original Jazz Monthly magazine, Max Harrison provided a comprehensive and analytical review of Gil Evans’ music and his career dating back to his time with the Claude Thornhill orchestra in the mid-1940s and the Birth of the Cool recordings through the issuance of the Miles Davis collaborations on Columbia and the earliest recordings under Gil’s own name on Pacific Jazz, Verve and Impulse.
These articles were later collected and published in book form under the title A Jazz Retrospect.
We will post Max’s essay from this book in its entirely to form the second part of our visit with Gil Evans, a musician whose “… lack of formal training may be the key to his originality, for he can arrange harmonies that no one else has ever arranged and cluster instrumental groups that no one has ever sectioned before.” [Jack Chambers, Milestones, Vol. 1, p. 95].