I’ve been a fan of the song Nardis since hearing a version on a Ron Carter album many years ago and reading the songwriting credit: Miles Davis. It turns out the song has a twisted history and there has been dispute about whether Davis even wrote it — it has come to be most associated with one of Miles’ former pianists, Bill Evans. Any number of Jazz combos have interpreted it in any instrumentation you can imagine. It is a standard.
A few years ago I went on a tear and purchased five versions of Nardis by five different artists, including Evans original 1956 recording. Weeks after that I purchased a recording Evans did much later in life when his performance bears a heavier emotional resonance. Some of the emotion, perhaps, coming from the fact that the older Evans was not as nimble on the keys as the younger.
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 quaint 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. Bob Dylan wrote it, but it’s Jimi’s song.
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. We should all strive for such clarity.