12. "This Is A Gil Evans"
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
So off I went into the world of the self employed music copyist. The first job I did which was provided by my music copying teacher was a piano vocal score for an opera. I then took samples of my work around town to all the music copying offices and met most of New York's music copying luminaries. The first office that hired me in a substantive way was called Music Craft which was run by an extremely memorable and pleasant soul from Mexico. It was situated on the second floor above the apartment of a man who operated a hot dog cart so there was always the smell of onions cooking in the air. There was usually a team of 3 to 4 copyists working at a time. One of them was one of the city's most highly regarded copyists who literally wrote the book on music copying. He was frequently busy working on parts for John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Music Craft was giving me a fair amount of work, but I still needed more to pay the bills.
This problem was solved one day when the phone rang and the person on the other end identified himself as Gil Evans. I was astonished that Gil Evans had gotten my number so I asked, "Is this the Gil Evans?" To which he replied, "This is a Gil Evans." His humility impressed me and I realized that it was indeed the legendary arranger and Miles Davis collaborator. He had gotten my number from a college classmate of mine and needed some parts copied for a tour he was doing with Lee Konitz and 13 winds. I made an appointment to meet with him in his expansive loft apartment located in an artist's coop in the west village. When I saw his "scores" I knew this wasn't going to be easy. He wrote out all thirteen parts in pencil squeezed on to 2 staves. Gil's chords had a lot of 2nds which made them hard to read, but not only that, they were not transposed. So I had to decipher his notes, transpose them and what was even more astonishing, he sometimes asked me to choose which instruments played them. I worked at a table in his apartment while he either wrote at his Yamaha electric grand, listened to music through headphones or made and drank smoothies.
That first job I worked 24 hours straight without sleeping, went home to get some sleep and then returned to finish the job. When it was time to pay me, he took off one of his sneakers, pulled out a moist roll of bills and paid me for my work. When I asked why he carried his money this way, he said it was because he had recently been mugged. I could relate because I had been mugged fairly recently myself.
He was a fascinating man. Kind, compassionate, and ground breaking. When I asked if I could play his electric grand, he came over and showed interest in what I was playing. I worked for him on another job involving him and an Italian radio orchestra, but I eventually had to tell him I couldn't work for him anymore because the low pay scale did not match the difficulty of the work. Gil paid me $2 a page for parts and I had just gotten a call from Warner Brothers Publishing and they were paying $12 a page for parts and $25 a page for scores. I would have liked to continue working with Gil, but the money Warner Brothers was offering was just too good to pass up. Gil was very understanding about it, and I will always hold him in the highest regard as a musician and a human being.