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Gil Evans

Gil Evans is an NEA Jazz Master

Ian Ernest Gilmore Green (or Gilmore Ian Rodrigo Green) was born May 13, 1912, in Toronto, Canada, the son of Margaret Julia MacChonechy and a father he never knew. He took the name of his stepfather, and thus became Gil Evans. His stepfather was a miner, whereas his mother took care of the children of rich families, and prepared meals for campsites. Moving wherever work would take them, they went from one North-American mining site to the next, including Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and such Northwestern U.S. states as Idaho, Montana, and Washington. Their child was put in boarding houses, moving from one family to the next, until they finally settled permanently in California, around 1922. Gil went to school in Berkeley, and there, his real musical training began. The father of one of his friends was a jazz fanatic and initiated him to this music. In 1927, he took the two teenagers to see Duke Ellington at the Orpheum theater in San Francisco.

It was a revelation for Gil Evans, who decided to devote his life to this music. That same year, he bought his first record, "No One Else But You," by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. At the same time, he started transcribing, from the recordings, the music of such great jazz arrangers as Red Nichols, Duke Ellington, and Don Redman. In 1933, he put together his first group in Stockton, which had six musicians at first, but grew to nine in 1934. The group played arrangements by Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson, and Duke Ellington, all transcribed from the recordings. In 1935, the orchestra was on the same bill at the Palomar Ballroom as the triumphant Benny Goodman, then was hired to play at the Rendez-Vous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, in southern California, where it remained until 1938. Gil Evans was in charge of writing and conducting, and, from time to time, Stan Kenton held the piano chair.

In 1938, Alex Holden, who worked for MCA at that time, offered Gil Evans' orchestra a chance to accompany singer Skinnay Ennis. Gil accepted, keeping his position as arranger. Ennis found work for the group in comedian Bob Hope's well-known radio show for NBC in Hollywood. The manager then called up another arranger to work with the group, Claude Thornhill, who scored a big hit in 1937 with his arrangement of "Loch Lomond" for singer Maxine Sullivan. He and Gil Evans became colleagues and friends, but the two arrangers decided to quit this particular job in 1941. Thornhill had already put together his own orchestra in New York in 1939. This group had begun touring, and found itself, in the summer of 1940, at the Rendez-Vous ballroom in Balboa Beach. In 1941, Thornhill decided to move back to New York, and on March 20, the orchestra began a three-month residency at the Glen Island Casino. Gil Evans joined him as arranger alongside Bill Borden, and on November 17, for the first time in his career, one of his arrangements was recorded. Unfortunately, the U.S. had also gone to war during this time, and the barrage of draft orders compelled Thornhill to disband his orchestra.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Live At Fabrik

Jazzline Classics


Old Bottle New Wine

Blue Note Records


The Gil Evans...

RCA Legacy; Columbia/Legacy


The Complete Pacific...

Blue Note Records




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