I’ve been a fan of the song Nardis since hearing a version on a Ron Carter album many years ago, and was surprised then to know of a Miles Davis composition I hadn’t heard him play. It turns out the song has a twisted history and there has even been some dispute about whether Davis even wrote it, as the song came to be most associated with one of Miles’ former pianists, Bill Evans. The song has been interpreted by any number of Jazz combos in any instrumentation you can imagine. A few years ago I went on a tear and purchased five versions of the song by five different artists, including Evans original 1956 recording. Later, I purchased a recording he did much later in life when his performance bears a much heavier emotional resonance.
Evans once told a friend that a musician should be able to maintain focus on a single tone in his mind for at least five minutes – and in playing like this, he achieved a nearly mystical immersion in the music: a state of pure, undistracted concentration.
This article by Steve Silberman makes my exploration as a listener seem petty by contrast – the author keeps a ranking of his favorite 100 recordings of Nardis handy at all times. Though Silberman clears up the song’s provenance in favor of Miles Davis, Nardis, to me, will always belong to Bill Evans in the same way that All Along the Watchtower belongs to Jimi Hendrix even though Bob Dylan wrote it. The article is not so much about the weight or skill of interpretation as it is of an artist concerned with developing a process that allowed for a career of exploration, despite personal struggles. We should all strive for such clarity.