Gil Evans was way ahead of his time when he hooked up and did a number of albums with Miles Davis. His arranging style was like no other arranger around. Miles had an uncanny ability for choosing the best people to extend his sound and vocabulary, and Gil Evans might have done more to contribute to that legacy than anyone.
The following video is a recording and transcription of Gil’s arrangement on the old standard My Ship. There are a few things that I would like to point out in this arrangement…
1) This is a studio recording, so its performance would be much more difficult “live” than in a studio where the the guy at the mixing board has the control in the end.
Why? Because, for example, Gil uses a fairly high trumpet section for “pads” behind the soloist, and even though they are muted, it is not so easy to play soft in that range and not cover up the delicate clarinet and flute sounds. Always keep in mind the setting you are writing for. In this instance, Gil knew that he could “mix” the wide variety of instrumental sounds the way he wanted in the end. Playing this in a club is certainly doable, but takes ALOT of control in the brass section,and mics are certainly needed for woodwinds.
2) Notice how well Gil uses chromatic lines (in the bass) to create not only new harmony for the tune, but also how the smooth chromatic lines of the inner voices lend themselves to altered upper extensions of chords. This arrangement at times reminds me of Bob Brookmeyer’s original ballad called “First Love Song”. Brookmeyer was influenced by Gil for sure (as were thousands of others of course!)
3) Gil manipulates span, weight, and density beautifully in the chart. A dense few measures may be followed by a simple line at the octave.
4) An awesome example of using Pedal Point is found at the beginning. Notice how the dissonance finally resolves to a simple C chord just before the melody of the tune begins. Tension and release.
5) French horn is used to state the first part of the melody. Granted, most big band at your local club don’t carry around french horn player, but it can be a terrific sound in the right register, and especially when woodwinds are involved. Remember: A french horn is the only brass instrument included in the standard woodwind quintet.
6) Notice how great cup mute trumpet and flute sound doubled together!
You will definitely want to expand this to full screen, and study it over and over. Play it on the piano, and let this thing soak into your psyche. Enjoy!
UPDATE: A class member, Fredo Vollmer, took the time to input this excerpt into Finale and make it available to everyone. Download the transcription in PDF below. Thanks Fredo!
Download Gil Evans My Ship PDF Analysis Here