Essay Jazz Latin

Despite its inauspicious debut, the tune has become one of the most frequently recorded modern jazz standards, played in an impressive variety of settings ranging from piano trios, to Latin jazz combos, to ska-jazz ensembles, to a full orchestra featuring players from the US Air Force.For some musicians, “Nardis” becomes an object of fascination—an earworm that can be expelled only by playing it.

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For months, while his bandmates got thunderous ovations after solos, Evans got the silent treatment, which reinforced his self-doubt.

In his eagerness to be regarded as an equal, he accepted a first fix of heroin from Philly Joe, whom Evans respected more than any drummer on earth.

vans once told a friend that a musician should be able to maintain focus on a single tone in his mind for at least five minutes—and in playing like this, he achieved a nearly mystical immersion in the music: a state of pure, undistracted concentration.

Even before writers like Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder made Buddhism a subject of popular fascination in America, Evans saw parallels between meditative practice and the keen, alert state that jazz improvisation demands, when years of work on perfecting tone and technique suddenly drop away and a direct channel opens up between the musician’s brain and his or her fingers.

He listened to other pianists closely, but rather than imitate a player like Bud Powell, he would try to extract the essence of Powell’s approach and apply it to different types of material.

“It’s more the mind ‘that thinks jazz’ than the instrument ‘that plays jazz’ which interests me,” Evans told an interviewer.By maintaining a singularly intense focus on “Nardis” over the course of his career, Evans managed to turn the melody that had frustrated “Blue” Mitchell that night in 1958 into a vehicle for dependably accessing “the mind that thinks jazz,” like a homegrown form of meditation that could be performed on a piano bench before rapt audiences in clubs night after night.By bringing the story of Evans’s quest for a kind of jazz samadhi to light, I hope to understand the enduring hold that “Nardis” has on the ever-widening circle of musicians who play it, while reckoning with my own personal fixation.He had been recommended for the job by George Russell, an avant-garde composer whose book of music theory, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, was a decisive influence on Miles’s modal conceptions of jazz in the late 1950s. After being invited to sit in with Miles’s sextet at a bar called the Colony Club in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Evans got the gig, though he was in for several more rounds of hazing before being allowed to play alongside Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Miles himself, all at the peak of their powers. Miles would counter Evans’s musical suggestions by saying, “Man, cool it.When Russell first mentioned Evans’s name, Miles asked, “Is he white? At one point, Miles, in his inimitably raspy voice, told the wan young pianist that to prove his devotion to the music, he would have to “fuck” his bandmates, “because we all brothers and shit.” Evans wandered off for fifteen minutes to entertain the possibility, before telling Miles that while he wanted to make everyone happy, he just couldn’t do it. We don’t want no white opinions.” At the same time, the trumpeter became the young pianist’s staunchest advocate, saying that he “played the piano the way it should be played,” and comparing his supremely expressive touch on the keys to “sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall.” He would sometimes call Evans and ask him to just set the handset down and leave the line open while Evans played piano at home.Though superb versions of “Nardis” have been recorded by everyone from tenor sax titan Joe Henderson to bluegrass guitar virtuoso Tony Rice, no one embodied its melodic potential more than Bill Evans.For him, Miles’s serpentine melody was a terrain he never tired of exploring.He also began dating a chic young black woman, Peri Cousins, for whom he wrote one of his sprightly early originals, “Peri’s Scope.” Cousins observed how quickly the drug filled a crucial role in Evans’s existence, providing a buffer between his acute sensitivity and the realities of life on the road.“When he came down, when he kicked it, which he did on numerous occasions, the world was—I don’t know how to say it—too beautiful,” she said. It’s almost as if he had to blur the world for himself by being strung out.” On Kind of Blue, widely regarded as the greatest jazz recording ever made, Evans became a conduit of that unbearable beauty, mapping a middle path between Russell’s Lydian concepts, Miles’s unerring sense of swing, and the luminous romanticism of Ravel and Debussy.For more than twenty years, Evans played it nearly every night with his trios, often as the show-stopping climax of the second set.Indeed, he became so closely associated with the tune that some of his fans dispute that Miles actually wrote it, insisting that Evans deserves the credit.


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