Bill Evans, Broken Time
It was supposed to be the best day of Richard “Blue” Mitchell’s life, but June 31, 1958, turned out to be one of the worst. The trumpeter had been summoned to New York City from Miami for a recording session with Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, an old friend who was being hailed as the hottest alto sax player since Charlie Parker.
But things started going wrong even before Mitchell arrived at Reeves Sound Studios on East Forty-Fourth Street. First, his luggage went astray en route from Florida. Then there was a surprise waiting for him in the control room: Miles Davis, one of his musical heroes, who had taken the extraordinary step of composing a new melody as a gift to Cannonball. Mitchell was supposed to play Miles’s part.
That wasn’t going to be easy, because the tune, called “Nardis,” was anything but a standard workout on blues-based changes. The melody had a haunting, angular, exotic quality, like the “Gypsy jazz” that guitarist Django Reinhardt played with the Hot Club de France in the 1930s. And it didn’t exactly swing, but unfurled at its own pace, like liturgical music for some arcane ritual. For three takes, the band diligently tried to make it work, but Mitchell couldn’t wrap his head around it, particularly under Miles’s intimidating gaze. The producer of the session, legendary Riverside Records founder Orrin Keepnews, ended up scrapping the night’s performances entirely.
The next night was more productive. After capturing tight renditions of “Blue Funk” and “Minority,” the quintet took two more passes through “Nardis,” yielding a master take for release, plus a credible alternate. But the arrangement still sounded stiff, and the horns had a pinched, sour tone.
Only one man on the session, Miles would say later, played the tune “the way it was meant to be played.” It was the shy, unassuming piano player, who was just shy of twenty-eight years old. His name was Bill Evans.
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Image: Wikimedia CommonsTags: jazz