Written by Becca Pulliam from WBGO-FM
For arranger Gil Evans‘ centennial, we celebrate a concert from the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival. Evans was born on May 13, 1912. In three collaborations in the late 1950s, two friends — Evans and Miles Davis — steered their projects into a new era for jazz.
Their first album was Miles Ahead. Named in its honor, this concert is “Still Ahead,” with music from the pair’s second and third records, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain.
Porgy and Bess, by George and Ira Gershwin, was the first Miles Davis stereo LP, coming out in 1958. A reworked Porgy and Bess was running on Broadway then (as in 2012), and Nina Simone had a hit with “I Loves You, Porgy.” In Davis and Evans’ hands, French horns and tuba enter the brass; the piano is subtracted from the orchestra. Davis takes the solos — he’s Porgy, Bess, Sportin’ Life and all. For Evans’ riff, as well as Davis’ reading, the jazz critic Martin Williams included “Summertime” in the 1973 Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz.
In between Porgy and Spain, Miles Davis made the greatest-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue. Then, released in 1960, Sketches of Spain was even more colorful, beginning with the cover art. Remember the gold sky and red earth, and Davis with his trumpet sketched in a silhouette on the horizon? Classic. Castanets and tambourine, flutes, oboe, bassoon and harp expand the ensemble. Davis is the only soloist, while the music comes from southern Spain. Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez was originally composed for guitar and orchestra, and “Saeta” and “Solea” are flamenco songs, although the sketches are only approximations of flamenco rhythm.
On our JazzSet, Terence Blanchard is the trumpeter, and he plays the role with commitment and emotion. Some in the audience were in tears. Musical director Vince Mendoza conducts the orchestra, and these Los Angeles-based musicians nail the challenging scores. The Still Ahead Orchestra project producer, Festival West’s Darlene Chan — also a legend — once produced a Miles Davis-Gil Evans concert in Berkeley, Calif., in 1968. The Monterey Jazz Festival’s mastermind and artistic director Tim Jackson proudly produced this live concert for the 54th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival. The Still Ahead Orchestra will perform once again in Newark, New Jersey, at the James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival in October 2012.
Our highlights are remixed in Surround Sound by Duke Markos.
Wayne Bergeron, Chuck Berghofer, Annie Bosler, Gene Cipriano, Wade Culbreath, Marcia Dickstein, Peter Erskine, Miles Evans, Dan Fornero, Gary Foster, Gary Grant, Larry Hall, Greg Huckins, Alan Kaplan, Charlie Loper, Bob McChesney, Charlie Morillas, Mike O’Donovan, Bill Reichenbach, Bob Sheppard, Rick Todd, Brad Warnaar.
Additional musicians from Monterey’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra (on “Saeta” only): Christian Marrero, Adam O’Farrill, Tree Palmedo, Enrique Sanchez, Anthony Fung, Kevin Mixon Jr.