Essay Jazz Latin

Then there was a surprise waiting for him in the control room: Miles Davis, one of his musical heroes, who had taken the extraordinary step of composing a new melody as a gift to Cannonball. That wasn’t going to be easy, because the tune, called “Nardis,” was anything but a standard workout on blues-based changes.

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But things started going wrong even before Mitchell arrived at Reeves Sound Studios on East Forty-Fourth Street.

First, his luggage went astray en route from Florida.

For months, while his bandmates got thunderous ovations after solos, Evans got the silent treatment, which reinforced his self-doubt.

In his eagerness to be regarded as an equal, he accepted a first fix of heroin from Philly Joe, whom Evans respected more than any drummer on earth.

Pale, bespectacled, and soft-spoken, Bill Evans looked more like a graduate student of theology than a hard-swinging jazzman.

He was already working for Miles full-time on the night he recorded “Nardis” for Cannonball. “I heard him at Birdland—he can play his ass off.” Indeed, the first time Evans played a beginner’s intermission set at the Village Vanguard—Max Gordon’s basement club, the Parnassus of jazz—the pianist was astonished to look up and see the legendary trumpeter standing there, listening intently.

The producer of the session, legendary Riverside Records founder Orrin Keepnews, ended up scrapping the night’s performances entirely. After capturing tight renditions of “Blue Funk” and “Minority,” the quintet took two more passes through “Nardis,” yielding a master take for release, plus a credible alternate.

But the arrangement still sounded stiff, and the horns had a pinched, sour tone.

He had been recommended for the job by George Russell, an avant-garde composer whose book of music theory, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, was a decisive influence on Miles’s modal conceptions of jazz in the late 1950s. After being invited to sit in with Miles’s sextet at a bar called the Colony Club in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Evans got the gig, though he was in for several more rounds of hazing before being allowed to play alongside Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Miles himself, all at the peak of their powers. Miles would counter Evans’s musical suggestions by saying, “Man, cool it.

When Russell first mentioned Evans’s name, Miles asked, “Is he white? At one point, Miles, in his inimitably raspy voice, told the wan young pianist that to prove his devotion to the music, he would have to “fuck” his bandmates, “because we all brothers and shit.” Evans wandered off for fifteen minutes to entertain the possibility, before telling Miles that while he wanted to make everyone happy, he just couldn’t do it. We don’t want no white opinions.” At the same time, the trumpeter became the young pianist’s staunchest advocate, saying that he “played the piano the way it should be played,” and comparing his supremely expressive touch on the keys to “sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall.” He would sometimes call Evans and ask him to just set the handset down and leave the line open while Evans played piano at home.


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