Miles Davis’ Nardis: Analysis of Jazz Covers

Excerpt of Miles Davis' Nardis lead sheet

Miles Davis“Nardis” has become a cornerstone of the jazz repertoire.

Its haunting melody, modal structure, and rhythmic ambiguity inspire seemingly endless reinterpretation.

From the delicate lyricism of Bill Evans to the fiery intensity of Cannonball Adderley, “Nardis” has proven a fertile ground for jazz giants to leave their imprint.

This analysis delves into the diverse approaches taken by Evans, Adderley, Haden, Henderson, and others, revealing the composition’s enduring versatility.

Cannonball Adderley’s “Nardis”, Portrait of Cannonball (1958)

“Nardis” holds an intriguing place in jazz history. Though composed by Miles Davis for Cannonball Adderley‘s 1958 album Portrait of Cannonball, Davis himself never recorded the tune. It debuted with a stellar lineup: Adderley’s sax and Blue Mitchell‘s trumpet intertwined on the melody, underpinned by Bill Evans‘ piano, Sam Jones‘ bass, and Philly Joe Jones‘ drums.

The song opens with a captivating blend of unison horns over a lightly swinging rhythm section. Evans’ chords weave in and out, gradually building a rich harmonic tapestry. Adderley’s sax solo explores the melody with soulful phrasing and bold accents. Mitchell’s trumpet solo follows, simmering with bluesy inflections. Evans then takes center stage with a captivating piano solo, his sustained chords and delicate melodic touches highlighting the haunting beauty of the composition. The horns return to reprise the main theme, bringing this first recorded version of “Nardis” to a satisfying close.

Bill Evans’ “Nardis”, Explorations (1961)

Bill Evans held a deep affinity for “Nardis,” revisiting it numerous times throughout his career. His interpretations arguably became the definitive versions. On 1961’s Explorations, joined by Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, Evans adopts a brisker tempo than the original. His piano carries the melody with lush harmonic underpinnings.

The trio’s synergy is palpable. LaFaro’s rich, resonant bass takes center stage for a melodic solo. Evans’ light chords and Motian’s subtle hi-hat provide a delicate backdrop. The interplay between Evans and LaFaro is a marvel of unspoken communication. LaFaro’s solo brims with melodic ingenuity, the theme cleverly interwoven throughout.

Evans’ solo unfolds with a spacious feel, his right-hand phrases punctuating the left hand’s chords. LaFaro lays down a swinging foundation as they revisit the “Nardis” theme, concluding with Evans’ signature sustained chords.

This performance showcases the trio’s brilliance. Evans and LaFaro deliver exceptional solos with masterful interplay, while Motian’s drumming provides the perfect rhythmic canvas.

Joe Henderson’s “Nardis”, The Kicker (1967)

Joe Henderson‘s 1967 album The Kicker features a compelling rendition of “Nardis.” His saxophone intertwines with Mike Lawrence‘s trumpet and Grachan Moncur III‘s trombone, creating a vibrant opening with a rich, stereo-separated horn sound. This powerful introduction is punctuated by Kenny Barron‘s piano chords, Ron Carter‘s rhythmic bass accents, and Louis Hayes‘ cymbals.

Henderson launches into a soulful sax solo, expertly backed by Hayes and Barron. His sustained notes have a stirring quality, while Barron’s accompaniment keeps the melody subtly present. Lawrence delivers a dynamic trumpet solo, fueled by the rhythm section’s propulsive energy. Moncur follows with a richly textured trombone solo, accented by Carter’s intricate bass lines. A brief piano solo from Barron adds a further dimension, leading back to the head with a reprise of the striking opening arrangement.

This version of “Nardis” showcases a band brimming with talent. While the solos remain concise, each musician leaves a powerful and distinctive mark on the performance.

Hank Jones’ “Nardis”, The Great Jazz Trio at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 2 (1977)

Hank Jones‘ piano trio offers a captivating take on “Nardis,” captured live at the Village Vanguard and featured on their 1977 album The Great Jazz Trio at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 2. Jones opens with a captivating unaccompanied piano solo, weaving a playful improvisation before Ron Carter‘s bass joins, subtly hinting at the “Nardis” theme. Carter’s bass possesses a unique, almost electric quality, adding a fresh textural element.

The trio delivers a spirited rendition of the head, infusing the performance with an upbeat energy that contrasts with Bill Evans‘ more introspective approach. Jones’ subsequent piano solo stays true to the melody while showcasing his improvisational prowess, all while Tony Williams seamlessly shifts to the ride cymbal. Carter’s walking bassline shines, perfectly synced with Williams’ drumming.

Carter embarks on an expressive bass solo, exploring a playful groove and showcasing his technical mastery with double stops and melodic slides. Williams’ open drum breaks offer a dynamic counterpoint, surprisingly melodic in their own right. The trio then revisits the “Nardis” theme with renewed intensity.

This piano trio delivers a distinctive “Nardis,” marked by Jones and Carter’s stellar solos. While vastly different from the Evans version, the melody remains ever-present, woven skillfully throughout their creative and dynamic performance.

Charlie Haden’s “Nardis”, The Private Collection (1987)

Charlie Haden‘s 1987 album The Private Collection features a unique take on “Nardis.” Ernie Watts‘ saxophone carries the melody with a touch of sweetness, establishing a more languid tempo than previous interpretations. Watts’ ensuing solo blends Coltrane-inspired passages with smoother jazz elements, showcasing his versatility. Though excellent, Haden’s walking bassline feels less prominent in the mix, somewhat overshadowed by the drums.

Alan Broadbent delivers a captivating piano solo, his melodic touch shining through the rhythmic support of Haden and Higgins. After a brief return to the “Nardis” theme, Haden embarks on an unaccompanied bass solo. Beginning with a drone-like feel, he gradually expands his improvisation, venturing away from the central melody and creating his own striking melodic fragments. His solo culminates in a brief return to the drone-like quality, followed by the band’s reentry with the “Nardis” theme for the finale.

This version boasts a strong piano solo and a daringly exploratory bass solo by Haden. While Watts’ saxophone tone might not be universally appealing, the rendition stands out for its willingness to stretch the boundaries of the “Nardis” framework, deviating from the more melody-centric approaches heard before.

Kenny Barron and Brad Mehldau’s “Nardis”, Live Concert at the Umbria Jazz Festival (1999) [39:55 mark]

Kenny Barron and Brad Mehldau‘s 1999 Umbria Jazz Fest performance features a captivating piano duet version of “Nardis.” Barron opens with the melody, subtly embellished by Mehldau. They seamlessly shift roles, with Mehldau crafting a flowing improvisation on the theme. Their interplay is particularly delightful, with Barron’s punctuating chords beautifully supporting Mehldau’s melodic lines.

Mehldau’s right-hand arpeggios intertwine with a left-hand bassline inspired by the “Nardis” theme, creating a mesmerizing dynamic. Barron then takes the melodic lead, showcasing his nimble technique and inventiveness in the upper register. As Barron’s solo winds down, they subtly transition back towards the main theme. Mehldau hints at the melody before Barron fully reclaims it for the final rendition. They conclude with a delicate exchange—Barron’s high-register melodies complemented by Mehldau’s shimmering accompaniment.

This duet offers a unique perspective on “Nardis,” highlighting the individual brilliance of Barron and Mehldau, as well as their profound musical connection. The Umbria Jazz Fest setting adds further context to their stunning performance.

Jacky Terrasson’s “Nardis”, Smile (2002)

Jacky Terrasson‘s 2002 rendition of “Nardis” subverts expectations. Eric Harland‘s backbeat drumming and Remi Vignolo‘s minimalist bassline transform the tune into a laid-back, hip-hop infused groove further emphasized by Terrasson’s relaxed chords. The playful two-note riff sets a mischievous tone before the recognizable melody emerges, still steeped in the established mood. It’s as if the composition is lounging with a sly grin.

Harland’s subtle snare and kick drum variations keep things fresh. As Terrasson embarks on his solo, the rhythm section forms a hypnotic, head-nodding groove. Terrasson injects a delightful touch of dissonance, a wink of rebellion against the languid mood. Harland’s doubled-up snare pattern evokes a DJ sampling and layering beats, reinforcing the hip-hop undercurrent.

A brief return to the “Nardis” melody feels like a nostalgic nod before they reprise the intro. Harland’s persistent, yet evolving drum pattern becomes a hypnotic anchor. The abrupt ending, punctuated by a dismissive “alright, that’ll be good enough,” adds a final layer of nonchalant cool.

This isn’t your grandfather’s “Nardis.” It’s a testament to the tune’s adaptability. Terrasson’s trio takes the familiar melody and reimagines it with an almost Ahmad Jamal-esque audacity, filtering it through a hip-hop lens. While it might ruffle traditionalist feathers, it’s an undeniably infectious and captivating take on a time-honored standard.

Pilc Moutin Hoenig’s “Nardis”, Threedom (2011)

The Pilc-Moutin-Hoenig trio’s “Nardis” is a sonic dreamscape. Pilc’s solo piano emerges from an ethereal mist, playfully teasing the theme with leaps between registers. Hoenig’s cymbals and Moutin’s bass underscore a sense of mystery, creating an atmosphere ripe for exploration.

Pilc’s deep, rumbling phrases ignite a surge of intensity, met with a fiery response from Moutin and Hoenig. Moutin’s subsequent bass solo ventures further into abstraction, punctuated by fleeting hints of “Nardis” – like breadcrumbs marking the trail back to the central theme.

Pilc then reclaims the core melody, while Hoenig’s cymbals reintroduce a dreamlike mystique. The trio builds from a simple two-chord vamp, surging toward a thrilling climax before gracefully descending into a reprise of the “Nardis” theme.

This rendition dares to explore, using “Nardis” as a recurring anchor. The trio embraces ambiguity and moments of near-disintegration, showcasing their willingness to color far outside the lines. It highlights both the composition’s enduring structure and the trio’s bold, adventurous spirit.


“Nardis” has proven a fertile ground for iconic piano trios. From Bill Evans‘ introspection to Jacky Terrasson‘s hip-hop twist, the Pilc-Moutin-Hoenig trio’s daring exploration, or Hank Jones‘ swinging take – each offers a distinct lens.

Beyond the trio format, Kenny Barron and Brad Mehldau‘s captivating piano duet expands the possibilities. Meanwhile, horn-led renditions by Cannonball Adderley, Joe Henderson, and Charlie Haden infuse the tune with new colors and textures.

Remarkably, the “Nardis” melody remains a touchstone amidst these diverse explorations, serving as both a springboard for creativity and a grounding force. It’s a testament to the composition’s enduring appeal – a canvas for musicians like Kronos Quartet, Russell Gunn, Kevin Eubanks, Doug Raney, Mike Stern, and Kenny Werner to express their own musical voices.

Since its debut in 1958, “Nardis” has undergone a remarkable evolution. Its trajectory is a testament to the power of a captivating melody and the boundless creativity of the jazz community. The question lingers, where will it go next? The answer lies in the future of jazz, full of exciting surprises.

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Who wrote Nardis?

“Nardis” was written by Miles Davis for Cannonball Adderley’s 1958 Portrait of Cannonball album, where Blue Mitchell was on the trumpet, yet Davis himself never recorded the tune.