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Gil Evans Centennial Celebration! Jazz Times Article (Part1)


Gil Evans Centennial Celebration, Highline Ballroom, NYC, May 21, 2012

Family, friends and former bandmates honor late jazz great on centennial

The 700-capacity Highline Ballroom in Chelsea was decked out with balloons and party favors in celebration of composer-arranger Gil Evans’ 100th birthday (he was actually born on May 13, 1912 in Toronto and passed away in 1988 at age 76). A brief film preceding the concert featured touching personal testimony from Gil’s wife Anita Evans (who was in attendance) and pop star Sting, who said, “Gil was like a wise elder, like a wise old soul the people on Star Trek would meet.” He went on to praise Evans’ open-mindedness and childlike love of music while mentioning that the greatest advice the elder statesman ever gave him was, “There are no wrong notes.”


Gil Evans and Miles Davis

Former bandmates from different eras of the Gil Evans Orchestra converged on the Highline Ballroom stage for this nostalgic event. Guitarist Ryo Kawasaki, who played in the band during the mid-’70s and appeared on 1975’s The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix, flew in from Estonia for the occasion. Other mainstays from the old order included tuba ace Howard Johnson and trumpeter Lew Soloff (both of whom joined the Evans orchestra in 1966), guitarist Paul Metzke (from the mid-’70s band), trombonists Tom “Bones” Malone (who joined in 1973) and Dave Bargeron (a member since 1972) and drummer Bruce Ditmas (1971-1977). Tuba virtuoso Bob Stewart, tenor sax great Billy Harper and trumpeter Jon Faddis, all from the mid-’70s Evans orchestra, were also on hand for the festivities. The remainder of the aggregation included stalwarts from the band’s longstanding ’80s Monday night residency at Sweet Basil, the now-defunct Greenwich Village club (with the exception of Strat strangler Oz Noy, who filled in for the late and much lamented Hiram Bullock).

With Paul Shaffer acting as master of ceremonies, Gil’s son, trumpeter Miles Evans, leading the band and Gil Goldstein filling big shoes on keyboards, this Gil Evans Centennial kicked off with a rousing rendition of “Bud & Bird,” which featured alto saxophonist Chris Hunter blowing passionately over darkly swirling, dissonant harmonies. Trombonist Bargeron, guitarist Kawasaki and tenorist Harper also stepped up to blow with abandon on the walking blues section of Evans’ crafty homage to Bud Powell and Charlie Parker that incorporated some of their patented phrases into the horn arrangement. Hunter also led the ensemble through a moving evocation of “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” which had him wailing way up into the altissimo range. Howard Johnson also turned in a beautiful baritone sax solo on this richly reharmonized Mingus anthem while guitarist Noy contributed some edgy six-string work, nonchalantly running through daring intervallic leaps and audacious runs up and down the fretboard of his ax.

Paul Shaffer’s Late Show with David Letterman bandmate Will Lee next thrilled the Highline crowd with his soulful vocal delivery on Evans’ slow, rapturous arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that also had Shaffer sitting in on xylophone. Trumpeter Soloff, who described the Evans orchestra as “a living organism” during his pre-concert testimony, gradually built to a signature high-note crescendo in the course of his dynamic solo on this Evans staple. Lee then switched bass, doubling with bassist Mark Egan to provide the power of a charging rhino through the chops-busting lines of Jaco Pastorius’ “Teen Town,” a tune that the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra regularly played at Sweet Basil during the ’80s. Alex Foster contributed a wailing soprano sax solo on this raucous Jaco anthem from Heavy Weather, which was underscored by drummer Kenwood Dennard’s insistent backbeat. At one point, Lee cleverly underscored the jam with Pastorius’ familiar bass lick from his “River People” while Delmar Brown (a member of the ’80s Gil Evans Orchestra and Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth band) added a scintillating keytar solo to take the adrenaline-pumped jam up a notch.