Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gil Evans, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and "The St. Louis Blues"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



“Cannonball runs away with the album [New Bottle, Old Wine: The Great Jazz Composers Interpreted by Gil Evans ]; his voice predominates. The scores sound like what Gil might have written for Charlie Parker if he had been unencumbered by the mishaps that occurred in his work with Parker in 1953. Gil tailored the arrangements to Cannonball's strengths — his warm sound, his bop-oriented cascading improvisations, and his unflagging energy.”
- Stephanie Stein Crease, Gil Evans Out of the Cool His Life and Music

Most Jazz fans are aware of the significant role that arranger-composer Gil Evans played in the seminal 1949 Birth of the Cool Recordings under Miles Davis’ nominal leadership and the larger, orchestral recordings that he made with Miles beginning with the 1959 Columbia release of Miles Ahead which was quickly followed by their collaboration on Columbia’s Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain.

But shortly before Gil began applying his “... imaginative and often startlingly daring orchestral concepts” in these larger projects with Miles, Gil weaved his magic with alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley for a Pacific Jazz recording entitled New Bottle, Old Wine: The Great Jazz Composers Interpreted by Gil Evans [CDP 7 46855 2].

As explained in the liner notes to the recording:

“As with the now classic Miles Davis collaborations this album is a joint effort between two giants of this music. Gil Evans and Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley. Gil has been since his early work with the Claude Thornhill band and the Miles Davis Nonet, a trailblazer and pacesetter with this imaginative and often startlingly daring orchestral concepts. Cannonball has, since his arrival in New York in the mid-1950's, established himself as one of the important musicians of our era irrespective of genre.

This album consists of compositions written by and/or associated with major figures in this music including Louis, Lester, Bird and Dizzy, all of whom transformed the aesthetic vis-a-vis the improvisor. The rest, W. C. Handy, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk are all important composers.”

The eight tunes on New Bottle, Old Wine are St. Louis Blues, King Porter Stomp, Willow Tree, Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, Lester Leaps in, ‘Round Midnight, Manteca and Bird Feathers.

And while all of them are magnificently arranged by Gil and memorably performed by Cannonball, St. Louis Blues has always remained my favorite largely for the reasons described in this excerpt from the liner notes:

“Cannonball with his ultra personal and warmly beautiful sound opens THE ST. LOUIS BLUES with an excellent paraphrase of the melody. The second chorus spotlights a background of trilling guitar and sustained chords vaguely reminiscent of Armstrong's "West End Blues'.'The next section, in minor, with muted brass and using substitute chords is especially beautiful and evolves into a Cannonball double time. Punching antiphonal brass undergird Cannonball s theme restatement and lead back to the original swing tempo. Check out Harvey Phillip's tuba on the restatement.”



Here’s more information about the evolution of this recording from Stephanie Stein Crease’s Gil Evans Out of the Cool His Life and Music which, incidentally, was the winner of the 2002 Deems Taylor Award for excellence on the subject of music [paragraphing modified]:

“...  George Avakian again became a key figure [for Gil's next recording project under his own leadership]. Avakian left Columbia in early 1958, warned by his doctor to slow down. His eight-year tenure as A&R director for jazz and international pop albums at Columbia Records had been literally gold-plated, and he left the label with a star-studded jazz roster. But Avakian seemed unable to stay out of the recording business. He was invited to form a partnership with West Coast producer Dick Bock, owner of the World Pacific label, with tempting conditions: fewer recordings, less bureaucracy, and the freedom to make quick decisions. Avakian accepted. World Pacific (Pacific Jazz), flourishing from the success of its recordings by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker, now had an active on-the-scene jazz producer on both coasts.

Shortly thereafter, Avakian ran into Gil, who said that he had some ideas for an album along the lines of Miles Ahead. Gil wanted to feature Cannonball Adderley, an alto saxophonist with a joyous sound a la Charlie Parker, who had been getting a lot of attention as a sideman with Miles Davis; Cannonball was also between labels. Avakian suggested they could do something for World Pacific. The result was New Bottle, Old Wine, which was recorded in New York in four sessions in April and May 1958.

The album, subtitled "The Great Jazz Composers Interpreted by Gil Evans and His Orchestra," romps through jazz compositions by some of Gil's favorite composers and performers. It moves chronologically through pieces by W. C. Handy, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie, and ends with Charlie Parker's rousing "Bird Feathers." Its buoyant mood contrasts starkly with the brooding beauty of Miles Ahead. The rhythm section—bassist Paul Chambers with Art Blakey or Philly Joe Jones on drums—delivers a powerful swing to the mid- and up-tempo numbers.

Cannonball runs away with the album; his voice predominates. The scores sound like what Gil might have written for Charlie Parker if he had been unencumbered by the mishaps that occurred in his work with Parker in 1953. Gil tailored the arrangements to Cannonball's strengths — his warm sound, his bop-oriented cascading improvisations, and his unflagging energy.

The arrangements were written for three trumpets, three trombones, French horn, and tuba; Cannonball, two other woodwind players, guitar, bass, and drums completed the fourteen-piece ensemble. Gil plays piano on Waller's "Willow Tree" and Monk's "'Round Midnight." The transition from " 'Round Midnight" to "Manteca" renders the two pieces a suite, the latter performed with a relentless drive reminiscent of Gillespie's own late 1940s big band. Gil's arrangement of "Bird Feathers" by Charlie Parker opens with a unison-with-a-twist—flute, muted trumpet, and brushes, in this case—which brings out new facets of the composition.

In 1959 Evans recorded a sequel for World Pacific, Great Jazz Standards, produced by Dick Bock. (Avakian had moved on to start a pop division at Warner Brothers Records.) This album included some musicians new to Gil's work on record, notably drummer Elvin Jones and veteran tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson, who, along with most of the other musicians — Steve Lacy, Johnny Coles, Bill Barber, Jimmy Cleveland, Louis Mucci, and Al Block - would play and/or record with Evans frequently over the next few years. As a group they added as much substantive personality to Gil's music as did long-term members of Ellington's band. Gil, like Ellington, wrote expressly for his players, targeting them for certain pitches and effects, certain nuances. Their unique voices were inseparable from the character of the composite sound Gil was after.

Great Jazz Standards was recorded in February 1959, shortly after Gil played at Birdland for two weeks with approximately the same personnel. Gil again used "great jazz composers" to tie the album together and wrote arrangements for compositions by Bix Beiderbecke, Thelonious Monk, Don Redman, John Lewis, and Clifford Brown; the album includes one Evans original, "La Nevada" (Theme). This album, like New Bottle, Old Wine, was marked by a strong rhythmic drive not often associated with Evans's work, delivered on most selections by Elvin Jones's drums.”

You can sample the music from New Bottle, Old Wine: The Great Jazz Composers Interpreted by Gil Evans [CDP 7 46855 2]on the following video montage of images of old St. Louis which uses Cannonball and Gil’s expressive performance of St. Louis Blues as its soundtrack.


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