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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.(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.
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.
For more than twenty years, Evans played it nearly every night with his trios, often as the show-stopping climax of the second set.
Indeed, he became so closely associated with the tune that some of his fans dispute that Miles actually wrote it, insisting that Evans deserves the credit.
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.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.By maintaining a singularly intense focus on “Nardis” over the course of his career, Evans managed to turn the melody that had frustrated “Blue” Mitchell that night in 1958 into a vehicle for dependably accessing “the mind that thinks jazz,” like a homegrown form of meditation that could be performed on a piano bench before rapt audiences in clubs night after night.By bringing the story of Evans’s quest for a kind of jazz samadhi to light, I hope to understand the enduring hold that “Nardis” has on the ever-widening circle of musicians who play it, while reckoning with my own personal fixation.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. nd that might have been the end of “Nardis.” Miles never recorded the tune himself—the fate suffered by another of his originals, “Mimosa,” recorded once by Herbie Hancock and never heard from again.In this case, however, the lack of a definitive performance by the composer created a kind of musical vacuum that other players have hastened to fill.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.And it didn’t exactly swing, but unfurled at its own pace, like liturgical music for some arcane ritual.For three takes, the band diligently tried to make it work, but Mitchell couldn’t wrap his head around it, particularly under Miles’s intimidating gaze.