The enthusiast's audio webzine

The Individualism of Gil Evans

I believe the first time I heard Gil Evans’ music was on Miles Davis’ Sketches in Spain on Columbia. For those of you who don’t know, this is a remarkably beautiful album, one highly thought of by critics and the public alike. As a fan of traditional flamenco music, it has special appeal for me. On Sketches is Gil’s arrangement of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, with Miles taking the lead written for and normally played on classical guitar. The two collaborated on Porgy and Bess as well, also on Columbia.

Gil had a composing and arranging style that was and is still unique. He released two well-known albums on the Impulse label in the 60’s. Out of the Cool was one and Into the Hot, the other. Both are fine examples of Gil’s unique composing and voicing of instruments. The Individualism of Gil Evans on the Verve label is perhaps the one album to own for his orchestral styling. What he does with Willie Dixon’s Spoonful is fabulous. A simple blues riff turned into a symphony of feeling. Like Coltrane on Ole (Atlantic) and Africa Brass (Impulse), Gil would sometimes use two bass players. He traveled and recorded live often with various sized groups – some of these recordings are still in print.

Gil liked to arrange standards in addition to writing his own compositions. He loved to play Hendrix tunes, for example. He used guitar players like Hiram Bullock, tenor sax players like George Adams and Billy Harper, alto sax players like Arthur Blythe and David Sanborn, trumpet players like Terumasa Hino and Hannibal Marvin Peterson, bass players like Richard Davis and Buster Williams, and drummers like Tony Williams and Elvin Jones. David Sanborn released albums under his own name for mostly mass market appeal, but in Gil Evans’ company, he is a horse of a different color. Howard Johnson, on bass clarinet, baritone sax and tuba, is present on most of Gil’s recordings.

Gil also liked to record live. Examples include Little Wing (Live in Berlin) on the Inner City label, There Comes a Time (RCA), Live at Sweet Basil with The Monday Night Orchestra (Evidence), Priestess – Live at St. George Church, NYC (Antilles), and The Gold Collection (Fine Line). The latter was released after his death and includes a long and hypnotic Sanborn solo with undeniable passion. Svengali (Atlantic), recorded at Trinity Church in NYC, includes a Marvin Peterson solo on Zee Zee that will tear your heart out.

You can google him for more information about his genius or sample bits of his recordings at your favorite online music store. A few can be heard all the way through at this site:


Hope you enjoy as much as I do.

Readers' comments

    Great article. I’ve been meaning to investigate more Gil Evans stuff. Back to the record shop…

    • Hope that you do, Mark. Happy trails.

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