At The Believer, Steve Silberman explores the life and work of influential jazz pianist Bill Evans and “Nardis,” a piece written in 1958 by Miles Davis but never actually recorded by him:
For three takes, the band diligently tried to make it work, but (trumpeter Richard “Blue”) 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.
As a sideman, Bill Evans performed on seminal albums from Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, and more. Recorded over the course of several sets one night in June of 1961, Sunday at the Village Vanguard is the work of the widely celebrated trio that Evans put together after a troubled stint at Manhattan’s Basin Street East. It’s one of the most popular live jazz recordings of all time. “If you are vulnerable to this music, you are completely vulnerable to it,” wrote The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik of Evans’s work in 2001.
In the August 2018 issue of The Believer, Silberman writes about the beginnings of the Bill Evans Trio, the “full-on musical obsession” that is ‘Nardis,’ and Evans’s crippling struggles with heroin and cocaine. Read that piece now.