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Ryan Truesdell: The Gil Evans Project

Victor L. Schermer By

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The Gil Evans Project

AAJ: How did you find all the music that must have been hidden in various nooks and crannies? And perhaps give us a broader description of what you're trying to accomplish in the Project.

RT: The project started gradually through my desire to know more about Gil Evans. A lot of his sheet music is just not available, and I was interested in it from a composer's standpoint. I wanted to find out what he was writing so I could learn from it. Maria was his assistant during the last few years of his life, so I had that connection. I also knew other people who had worked with Gil: Howard Johnson, Gil Goldstein and others. So, once in a while, I'd come across a photocopy of a musical sketch of his. I started collecting his sheet music just for my own basic information. Gradually, I got to know the Evans family—Miles Evans, Anita and Noah. And once in a while, I'd ask for a score, and Miles would make a copy for me. Soon I realized I had three or four pieces in my possession that had never been recorded.

About a year and a half ago, I really started working with Miles Evans to put Gil's music together. A lot of it isn't out there, and what is out there are transcriptions and not what Gil originally wrote. My first goal was to help the Evans family get Gil's music in order so that it could be performed again. In the process, I began calling people Gil had worked with—singers in the 1950s, and so on, like the singer Lucy Reed, for example. Gil did three arrangements on a record of hers called This is Lucy Reed (OJC, 1957). George Russell did some of the other arrangements. Lucy had died in 1998, so I called her son, and he had all the parts from that recording session, including a fourth piece by Evans that wasn't on the record. Often, I'd be looking for music that was recorded and find extra pieces that weren't.

So I started amassing all this music, and now I have over 50 pieces throughout Gil's entire career that have never been recorded. Amazing! That's when I decided that this music had to be shared and had to be recorded, so I decided to start the Gil Evans Centennial Project.

AAJ: Before you get to that, where did you find these documents? Where were they stored?

RT: They were all over the place. Lucy Reed's son was in California. The Thornhill music is in a library in Missouri. The Evans family had some of these in their collection here in New York. Recently, I went to North Carolina to do some research; Gil had written a piece for the Les Brown Orchestra that was never recorded and was in a collection at Duke University. And they just pop up all over the place. The Evans family had something for a recording that Gil did with Astrud Gilberto, too.

AAJ: So it was in various places, not just in an attic somewhere.

RT: It's taken years to track it down. Sometimes I'd locate a piece of music and it would take several months to finally get the copies of it. It's been a long and arduous process, but well worth it. And fun, too—sort of like a really great scavenger hunt. Sometimes I'll be focusing on other stuff for a couple of months, and I'll come home to find a new piece by Gil Evans in my mailbox. It's like Christmas year 'round.

Evans' Time with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra

RT: So, once I had all this music, I thought, "Why should I keep all this music to myself?" It needs to be out there, not only from the standpoint of Gil's sound and music, but it also tells quite a bit about Gil's history. One example is "Maids of Cadiz," that he did for his first LP with Miles Davis, Miles Ahead. It turns out that he had done an arrangement of that for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in 1950. Everyone knows the arrangement for Miles, but the version for Thornhill is much different. It's much longer, modulates a few times, and is at a faster tempo. It's interesting to see what parts he took from that to use in the Miles version, too. I've found that there are many instances of things he wrote in 1945, '46, '47 that he reuses later on in his career—for example, a melodic motive he wrote in an arrangement he did for Thornhill that he later incorporated into "Nobody's Heart." These new discoveries really shed a new light on Gil's history.

In regards to his association with Claude Thornhill, it's well known that Gil was writing for him right before the war, and continued when the band started up again in 1946 after the war. Gil presumably worked for the band until 1948, and then went off to do his own thing. But Gil's music for Thornhill I've uncovered goes all the way up to 1951—and there's quite a bit of it—showing that Gil was writing for the Thornhill band through 1951, which was all during the Birth of the Cool period. Pretty interesting.

AAJ: Apropos of that, recordings of the Thornhill band after 1946 show that the range of music is startling, going from 1930s swing styles to 1950s cool and bebop, including big band arrangements of tunes like "Jeru" and "Anthropology." Did Evans write any of those arrangements?

RT: "Jeru" was done by Gerry Mulligan. But Gil did "Anthropology," as well as "Donna Lee," "Yardbird Suite," and "Robin's Nest." When people think of Gil Evans during that time with Thornhill, they think of those bebop arrangements. They are very striking, and one of the first times bebop was arranged for a swing band. But it was fun for me to find out that he was also writing unbelievably complex and beautiful arrangements of these semi-corny pop tunes from the '30s at the same time. The amount of music he wrote for the Thornhill band is staggering. Every time I look around, I find something new.

AAJ: It's to the credit of Claude Thornhill and Billy Eckstine in particular that they fostered the newer music and had many progressive players in their bands.

RT: Absolutely. And I've read several interviews with Gil where he said that Claude didn't like bebop that much but was a good sport about playing it. Gil was somewhat of a music director for that band. I've talked to Hal McKusick, who played reeds with Thornhill, and he said that Gil chose the music for the band quite often.

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