Gil Evans

Self-taught arranger, composer, pianist, and orchestra leader Gil Evans (1912-1988) may have been born in Canada and died in Mexico, but it was in the United States that he left his indelible imprint on jazz, especially through his collaborations with Miles Davis. Evans, who developed his unique, often opaque manner of voicing horns while with the bands of Skinny Ennis and Claude Thornhill, first worked with Davis on the trumpeter’s landmark 1948-50 Birth of the Cool sessions and later orchestrated such classic Davis albums as Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain.

The son of a nomadic miner, Evans was living in Berkeley, California when he first heard jazz—records by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, and Don Redman—in 1927. "I fell in love with the music immediately,” he recalled 50 years later. "I learned how to handle a song from Louis Armstrong. He made all those records of pop tunes. A lot of the tunes were not first-rate, but he managed to get something great out of ’em.” The orchestrations of Ellington, Gene Gifford, Fletcher Henderson, and Eddie Sauter would also have impact on Evans’s style.

In 1957, at Davis’s urging, Evans recorded Gil Evans & 10 for Prestige, the first of many albums to appear under his own name. Later Evans bands mirrored Davis’s turn toward fusion; rock rhythms, arrangements of Jimi Hendrix tunes, synthesizers, and torrid solos (by the likes of guitarist Hiram Bullock and saxophonists George Adams, Billy Harper, and David Sanborn) became Evans hallmarks in the ’70s and ’80s. The New York–based arranger also worked on film soundtracks with David Bowie, Robbie Robertson, and Sting.