The Davis/Evans Arrangement Stands the Test of Time:
The Gershwin folk opera seen through the prism of possibly the most important jazz musician of the 20th century Miles Davis, and perhaps the greatest of the jazz arrangers outside of Duke Ellington.
Evans, who was a very important figure in the development of Miles Davis the Musician and band leader, who was also one of the few white men that Miles let into the fold.
Gil gained a rare trust and admiration from Davis over the years, both musically and socially, perhaps creatively Miles thought of Gil as his equal?
Since Miles and Gil were Both social and musical friends, it spoke volumes about Evan’s the man, and perhaps Miles. Davis had every right to be weary of the white jazz establishment of the late 50’s, yet he let his humanity throw that rightful skepticism aside in this case. Miles and Gil also created 2 other masterpiece like Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain.
With Miles’ own ability to put aside preconceived notions for the good of the music, it adds more to the importance of Gil Evans in my mind. No doubt Gil enriched Miles Davis, perhaps knowing at least one white person could meet him as an equal musically and socially meant a lot to Miles in that era, they remained good friends until Evans’ death in 1988.
The Music: Is it Really That Good?
For me the high point of Porgy & Bess is “Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus)”. The opening fan fare, the way Miles comes in with the most hauntingly mournful tone, “Gets me every time”. Chills down the spine.
The tuba and bass interplay are irresistible on “Buzzard Song” as well. Porgy is one of those albums that demands complete attention, its details so breathtaking you don’t want to be interrupted. I suggest a complete listen with headphones. (Note: Special thanks to a reader, George Kaye for pointing out a typo in regards to the tuba bass interplay.)
I do like the 2 other Evans Davis classics Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain. Don’t let anyone tell you different, Porgy is the best of the 3 by far and in nearly flawless in sound quality, the arrangements are beyond lush, but never over done. I can find nothing wrong with it.
Below: “Prayer, (Oh Doctor Jesus)” as mentioned above is my favorite tune from Porgy & Bess.
The colors of Evans’ arrangements sparkle through the mind. Miles’ soul-stirring trumpet reciting the Ira Gershwin Lyrics, has me eating out of the palm of his hand.
No music combines the styles of orchestral classical music and the blues better than Porgy & Bess. Porgy is easily one of the first five Davis albums to get, and just might be the best orchestral jazz album ever recorded.
Below: Summertime, Miles sings the lyrics as good as any vocalist ever could.
The tuba adds a lot to Gil Evans arrangements
Gil Evans always had a way of arranging the tuba in such a way to make it stand out, the bottom end sound dancing around as a color enhancer rather than just the thunderous effect.
The CD reissue from 1997 I believe, which is also in the Miles and Gil 6 Cd Box set, has sound on par with the original Vinyl. I am nearly always a champion of vintage vinyl over digital, this is one case I DO prefer the Compact Disc.
If you have never listened to large band jazz like this, be prepared to be swept away into a wondrous journey of discovery. You’ll only have about a 100 classic albums in the genre to get for starters. Porgy & Bess should be the place to start, then Evans’ Out of the Cool should be next.
*Top Image used with permission via Amazon.com.
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Jason Sositko, a freelance writer and entrepreneur is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I also use services such as Viglink and Skimlinks to earn income via links placed inside articles.