But Miles’s hard-core fans continued to shun Evans.
They saw a white nerd evicting the beloved Red Garland from the prestigious keyboard chair at a time when black pride and appreciation of jazz as a distinctively black cultural form were ascendant.
He had been recommended for the job by George Russell, an avant-garde composer whose book of music theory, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, was a decisive influence on Miles’s modal conceptions of jazz in the late 1950s. After being invited to sit in with Miles’s sextet at a bar called the Colony Club in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Evans got the gig, though he was in for several more rounds of hazing before being allowed to play alongside Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Miles himself, all at the peak of their powers. Miles would counter Evans’s musical suggestions by saying, “Man, cool it.
When Russell first mentioned Evans’s name, Miles asked, “Is he white? At one point, Miles, in his inimitably raspy voice, told the wan young pianist that to prove his devotion to the music, he would have to “fuck” his bandmates, “because we all brothers and shit.” Evans wandered off for fifteen minutes to entertain the possibility, before telling Miles that while he wanted to make everyone happy, he just couldn’t do it. We don’t want no white opinions.” At the same time, the trumpeter became the young pianist’s staunchest advocate, saying that he “played the piano the way it should be played,” and comparing his supremely expressive touch on the keys to “sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall.” He would sometimes call Evans and ask him to just set the handset down and leave the line open while Evans played piano at home.
He listened to other pianists closely, but rather than imitate a player like Bud Powell, he would try to extract the essence of Powell’s approach and apply it to different types of material.
“It’s more the mind ‘that thinks jazz’ than the instrument ‘that plays jazz’ which interests me,” Evans told an interviewer.
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.
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.