Friday, April 27, 2012

Jazz Orchestra Concert: Director's Notes

The Jazz Orchestra concert is devoted entirely to the music of Gil Evans, in honor of the centennial of his birth. Evans is best known for arranging the music on three great Miles Davis albums from the late '50s and early '60s, Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain, but his career began in the 1930s and lasted until his death in 1988. Over those 50+ years, Evans' music reflected and at times led the myriad of developments that took place during that half-century of jazz's history.

 We will be playing music from throughout Evans' career in this concert, beginning with two pieces he wrote for Claude Thornhill's big band in the early 1940s. "Anthropology" is a bebop tune written by two of the originators of that style, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Evans was one of the first writers to arrange bebop for a big band and he wrote several arrangements in that style for Thornhill.

 Another of those is "Sorta Kinda", a Swing Era pop song that Evans turned into bebop for for Thornhill band. Our performance will feature vocalist Jo Kuzelka.

Next will be a guest appearance by the HSU Symphonic Band. Evans wrote a stunning arrangement of the standard "Moon Dreams" for the Thornhill band, but it was never recorded by them. When Evans wrote the arrangement, Thornhill had expanded his big band to include 8 woodwind players performing on flutes and clarinets as well as saxes, in addition to two French horn players and a tubist in addition to the standard big band trumpets and trombones. When looking at the score, I realized that the instrumentation was closer to that of the Symphonic Band than the Jazz Orchestra, so I offered the piece to Paul Cummings and he agreed to do it with the Symphonic Band.

For several years in the late 1940s, Evans had a one-room apartment in midtown Manhattan that became a gathering place for many of the best and most adventurous young jazz musicians of the time, including Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, and John Lewis. Frequent musical discussions led Evans and the others mentioned above to form a group designed to have all of the colors of Claude Thornhill's band with the flexibility of a small group.

 They settled on a nine-piece group that included, in addition to the conventional jazz instruments of alto and bari, sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass and drums, the unusual for jazz French horn and tuba. This group eventually became known as the "Birth of the Cool" band and is generally acknowledged to be first cool jazz group.

While Evans only wrote two of the band's arrangements, it was his style that influenced all of the other writers for the band. The Jazz Orchestra will play both of the charts that Evans wrote, an adaptation of his earlier large-group arrangement of "Moon Dreams" and his arrangement of Miles Davis's tune "Boplicity."

We will be joined by guest soloist Gil Cline on trumpet and flugelhorn for one piece each from the three great Miles Davis albums Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. "My Ship", "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" and "Will O' The Wisp" each feature a varied and very colorful orchestration, including such instruments as alto and bass flutes, oboe, clarinet and bass clarinet, French horns and tuba.

The acclaim he received for the Davis albums allowed Evans to finally record under his own name, and we'll perform a piece from the first Gil Evans album Big Stuff, "Jambangle", which uses a bassoon along with more conventional jazz instruments.

La Nevada" from the album Out Of The Cool, finds Evans starting to embrace the more open structures first popularized by Miles Davis on his landmark album Kind of Blue. From the late '60s onward, Evans fully embraced the open structures of the jazz and rock of that time, as well as the instrumentation of those styles, and so electric guitar and synthesizer will be prominently featured on the last two pieces, "Zee Zee" and "Anita's Dance." --Dan Aldag

Photos: top: Gil Evans; Gil Evans and Miles Davis; Gil Evans

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