Reeves Sound Studios, A Musical Vacuum, The Mind That Thinks Jazz, Collective Sympathy, Polite Addiction, The Colors in the Scene, The Music between the Notes, A Constant Companion, Mount Sinai Hospital, Crucifixion, Resurrection It was supposed to be the best day of Richard “Blue” Mitchell’s life, but June 30, 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.
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.
Pale, bespectacled, and soft-spoken, Bill Evans looked more like a graduate student of theology than a hard-swinging jazzman.
He was already working for Miles full-time on the night he recorded “Nardis” for Cannonball. “I heard him at Birdland—he can play his ass off.” Indeed, the first time Evans played a beginner’s intermission set at the Village Vanguard—Max Gordon’s basement club, the Parnassus of jazz—the pianist was astonished to look up and see the legendary trumpeter standing there, listening intently.The producer of the session, legendary Riverside Records founder Orrin Keepnews, ended up scrapping the night’s performances entirely. 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.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.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.(If they’ve never heard of it, I understand that they must be new at this game.) By now I’ve heard so many different interpretations, in such a far-flung variety of settings, that a Platonic ideal of the melody resides in my mind untethered to any actual performance.It’s as if “Nardis” were always going on somewhere, with players dropping in and out of a musical conversation beyond space and time.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.