Saxophonist, composer, arranger and educator David Evans says his playing has evolved a great deal since 1993 when he was the musical director on the Mississippi River steamboat Delta Queen. But one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is his fierce ardor for jazz. KMHD Jazz Radio‘s Deborah DeMoss Smith chatted with Evans and asked him these five questions.
1. What instrument would you choose to play if you didn’t play the saxophone?
If I was going to play something else, sonically — I think the cello. I love the cello, love the cello aspects of the sound of the tenor saxophone. If you listen to Joe Henderson, a lot of the time he sounds like a cello. One time at Xavier University in New Orleans, Joe Henderson was there in their small band room without any microphones. I was probably five feet from him and heard his sound and, my goodness, he did sound like a cello. That saxophone sounded like it was made of wood. What a beautiful player Joe Henderson was.
2. What single recording can you not do without?
It’s so hard to pick one. In many cases, my state of mind changes from day to day and my favorites consequently change from day to day as well. I remember that I heard someone talk about a ‘desert island’ disc. Many give the same answer: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. But if I had to pick one that still would be the one because there’s so much variety and so much depth in that music. I was talking to a student about that record the other day. I was encouraging the student to try to study and transcribe great solos and I said that Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue was a great place to start.
3. You’re walking along and somehow come upon John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins and Paul Desmond. Who would you choose to sit down and learn from?
If you just wanted to hear somebody who’s really clever and entertaining, and if the conversation’s not necessarily a musical conversation, I would choose Paul Desmond because he was so smart and so funny, well-spoken. There are many stories about Paul Desmond saying clever, funny things people have hung on to forever. But if it’s going to be a discussion about music or shop talk about being a musician then it would have to be John Coltrane. Because no matter what you think about the various phases of his career or style development, you’d have to acknowledge that as long as he played, as long as he lived, he was always pursuing improvement, and he changed and grew as a musician.
4. You studied jazz in New Orleans and also played with top players there, and here you play that Mardi Gras music on my Fat Tuesday show each year. Is jazz different there than elsewhere?
I really appreciate the time in New Orleans. Not only was I student there, but I moved to New Orleans when it was the World’s Fair in 1984 and there was a lot of work for musicians. More work than players available, so a lot of opportunity for young people like myself to get out and start working. The way people in New Orleans approached music was a little bit different. The groove was paramount and there was a lot of play and humor, exuberance in the way that people played in New Orleans that you don’t necessarily get everywhere else. I really love it when I get a chance to play New Orleans music, like Mardi Gras music or just New Orleans jazz. When you’re playing New Orleans jazz, I like what Andrew Oliver said about that music — when it came about in the first place it was the most advanced music there was being played by the best musicians of the day and they were giving it their all.
5. Is jazz something you could never do without?
I’ve tried. When I moved to Portland, during the trip, my hearing was damaged badly, permanently. I quit playing music entirely for several years and it was kind of a miserable time. I did a lot of copywriting, a lot of display advertising for magazines and newspapers. I couldn’t be around music because my ears hurt too bad and I couldn’t hear right. But, man, it was not satisfying. I’d surely rather be playing. There’s not a whole lot of money in it, but there’s nothing I love more than getting on the stand with like-minded musicians and having that communion. That’s the most satisfying thing there is to do.