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Grammy nominee unearths hidden Gil Evans treasures

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Grammy nominee Ryan Truesdell felt like a "jazz archaeologist" as he sifted through thousands of pages of manuscripts in a safe in the apartment of renowned jazz arranger Gil Evans, best known for his collaborations with trumpeter Miles Davis.

"It was like being the Indiana Jones of jazz, only without the boulder coming out after you," Truesdell said. "I was sitting in a dusty room and going through papers from the `40s and all of a sudden finding all these gems."

The 32-year-old Truesdell's two-year odyssey would take him to university music archives and the personal collections of musicians who worked with Evans. He eventually discovered more than 50 previously unrecorded arrangements by Evans, who died in 1988.

Truesdell's mentor and Evans' former assistant, arranger-composer Maria Schneider, likened his find to buying an old house only to "discover a box of lost Beethoven manuscripts in the attic."

Schneider encouraged him to bring the arrangements to life. He raised money through the fan-funding ArtistShare platform and self-produced his debut album as a leader, "Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans," released on May 13, 2012 -- Evans' 100th birthday.

"Centennial" includes 10 previously unrecorded Evans arrangements. Half of them date to Evans' formative years with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in the late `40s and `50s when he experimented with introducing classical influences to large ensemble jazz.

The time span stretches to 1971 with a version of Kurt Weill's "Barbara Song" and a 19-minute medley of three Evans tunes that the arranger wrote for his 24-piece "dream band" that included instruments not typically found in a jazz big band such as oboe, bassoon and English horn.

Now, "Centennial" has been nominated for three Grammys at Sunday's awards show in Los Angeles. Truesdell got a nod for best large jazz ensemble album. Evans was posthumously nominated for best instrumental arrangement for "How About You," a 1947 chart for the Thornhill band, and instrumental arrangement accompanying vocalist(s) for "Look to the Rainbow," performed by Brazilian singer Luciana Souza, originally written for Astrud Gilberto's 1965 album of the same name, but never used.

"I was speechless when the nominations were announced, but I was mostly thrilled that Gil got nominated for arrangements that would have remained in filing cabinets had we not played them," Truesdell said. "I wanted to bring Gil's name back into the limelight ... and show how much more there was to him than those amazing records he did with Miles Davis."

Evans won a Grammy for best big band jazz instrumental performance for the 1986 album "Bud and Bird" and shared a Grammy with Davis for best jazz composition for "Sketches of Spain," a symphonic jazz interpretation of Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" released in 1960.

Truesdell became infatuated with Evans' music as a Madison, Wis., high school student when he came across Davis' 1958 "Porgy and Bess" album while searching for recordings by saxophonist Cannonball Adderley.

After receiving his master's degree in jazz composition at the New England Conservatory of Music, Truesdell began immersing himself in Evans' music for "selfish" reasons to hone his composing and arranging skills. His search for original scores led him to Evans' widow, Anita, and her sons, Miles and Noah.

Miles Evans, who now leads the Gil Evans Orchestra, said Truesdell's passion for the music led the family to make him the first person to receive full access to the archives stored in his father's apartment in the Westbeth Artists Community in Greenwich Village.

"There were a lot of people that wanted an all-access pass to Gil's work, but it turned out to be Ryan because I thought that he had something special within him, and I was right," Evans said in an email. "He did such a great job with the orchestra on `Centennial.' The sound is so emotional, tight and yet loose."

Truesdell, who co-produced Schneider's Grammy-winning 2007 album "Sky Blue," used ArtistShare so he could retain artistic control and perform Evans' music "exactly as he intended it to be played."

Many of the featured soloists -- such as saxophonists Steve Wilson and Donny McCaslin, clarinetist Scott Robinson and pianist Frank Kimbrough -- are musicians Truesdell worked with in Schneider's orchestra.

Truesdell says at times he was ready to throw in the towel, but Evans' spirit kept him going.

"I brought a picture of Gil conducting in the studio with Miles and taped it on my conductor's podium, so I always had Gil right there," Truesdell said. "You can't play this music live without having Gil present."

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