(b. 13 May 1912 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; d. 20 March 1988 in Cuernavaca, Mexico), arranger, composer, and bandleader whose record-album collaborations with Miles Davis (Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain) are generally considered to be some of the best jazz music ever written and performed.
Christened Ian Ernest Gilmore Green, Gil later in life chose to take a stepfather’s surname, Evans. His father, Ian Ernest Green, was a doctor, and his mother, Margaret Julia McConnachy, a homemaker. The Green family, including Gil’s two siblings, Jean and Montgomery, moved from Toronto to western Canada, then to Washington State, and finally to California. Evans graduated from Stockton High School and Modesto Junior College, both in California. He was, a self-taught musician who learned by listening and transcribing into musical notation the records of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, Red Nichols, and the Casa Loma Band. Out of school, he led and wrote for his own band, which lasted from 1933 to 1938. His singer, Skinny Ennis, took over the band in 1938, and Evans stayed on as the band’s arranger. That year, the band
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began working on the Bob Hope radio show. Also writing for the band was Claude Thornhill, who left in 1939 to form his own group. Thornhill had a distinctive sound: he used French horns and integrated a tuba into the standard big-band instrumentation. Because this band offered new creative challenges, Evans joined it as arranger in 1941.
Although a Canadian citizen, Evans joined the U.S. Army during World War II (thereby gaining U.S. citizenship) and worked again with Skinny Ennis, who was leading a band at the Santa Anita Army Ordnance Base in California. He later directed a band at Fort Lewis, in Washington State. After his discharge from the army in 1946, Evans moved to New York City and rejoined Thornhill. He wrote arrangements of such modern jazz pieces as Donna Lee, Anthropology, Robbins’ Nest, and Yardbird Suite. Evans’s work was recognized...
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