Gil Evans Day

May 13, 1912 – March 20, 1988


Arranger, composer, leader, and pianist Ian Ernest Gilmore Green (who became known as Gil Evans) was born May 13, 1912 in Toronto Canada.

Gil Evans began his career as a bandleader quiet early, leading his own orchestra during 1933-38 which eventually became the backup band for singer Skinnay Ennis (for whom he arranged).

Evans became known for his inventive arrangements for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra during 1941-42 and 1946-48, particularly, for the softer tones and advanced harmonies that he utilized, and for the way that he used French horn and (by 1947) tuba in the ensembles in charts that ranged from sweet dance music to bebop.

Miles Davis was impressed, they became best friends, and they spent many hours with others discussing the type of group that they wanted to form, the smallest possible ensemble that could include all of the important components of the Claude Thornhill orchestra.

The result was the Miles Davis Nonet (later called “The Birth of the Cool”), a group that recorded 12 numbers during 1949-50 and only had one actual live engagement; Evans was one of its key arrangers.

After a period in obscurity, Evans emerged to write for a Helen Merrill album and then created three masterpieces that showcased Miles Davis in 1957-59: Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches Of Spain.

During that period, Evans also recorded a series of inventive albums as a leader, continuing into the 1960s and also writing for Kenny Burrell, Astrud Gilberto and others.

In 1969 with Blues In Orbit, Gil Evans began to blend together acoustic and electric instruments on his projects including a Jimi Hendrix tribute, and from 1970 on he frequently led all-star bands in clubs including at a long-term Monday night engagement at Sweet Basil’s.

Long before his death in 1988 at the age of 75, Gil Evans was universally ranked as one of jazz’s greatest and most significant arrangers.

Here is his arrangement of “Boplicity” with the Miles Davis Nonet in 1949.

-Scott Yanow