Saxophonist Bill Evans studied saxophone under the guidance of renowned player Dave Liebman while attending the University of North Texas, and was soon to follow in his footsteps; taking his first professional job as a sideman for renowned jazz trumpeter Miles Davis at the age of 22. As Davis revived his career with records such as The Man with the Horn and Star People, Evans made some important musical connections, which lead to him joining the reformed Mahavishnu Orchestra, and establishing a career in which collaboration would always be integral. From a jazz fusion group with former members of Pat Metheny group in the form of Elements, to a jazz/hip hop LP with rapper Ahmed Best, Evans explored a variety of musical styles, creating with some of the most notable musical figures around.
Ahead of his album launch show at Band on the Wall on 12th August, Bill has shared his five favourite collaborations from the album, and answered some of our questions on those collaborations.
Gregg Allman on…Love is Working Overtime
‘Classic blues shuffle. Its the only song Gregg Allman has recorded where he actually tells a story at the end, in his own words after singing the melody. I flew to Savannah, Georgia to record with him on this one. He nailed it on the first attempt with the band.’
Did you co-write the number with Gregg or was it solely your composition?
‘The plan was to co-write. I wrote the lyrics at first , then sent them to him. He said “I like your lyrics better, Let’s keep them!”
How long did you spend playing through the track and getting the groove right with the guys before you got that first take down?
‘Not long. Everyone had the vibe right away so we used the first take. Sometimes the first take is the most creative and spontaneous.’
Do you have a personal favourite Gregg Allman record?
‘He did a record called Low Country Blues which I love. Gregg is one of the most natural soulful singers I’ve ever heard.’
JJ Grey on…Right Lady
‘This track is a collaboration with southern Blues Rock singer JJ Grey. It has elements of blues and jazz combined to make forceful song that takes the listener on a journey until the final tag at the end of the song. Saxophone plays off the vocal throughout.’
The interplay between sax and brass on that track is really nice, at what point did that enter the arrangement?
‘I played the sax parts while he sang…we played off each other. Thats why it works so well I think.’
Josh Dion on…Kings and Queens (live in Moscow)
‘Josh Dion, my drummer, sings this co-written song with my band, live in Moscow at the Spasa House in front of Russian and US dignitaries. I had fun stretching out on the sax solo.’
How did Josh begin playing with the band?
‘I first heard Josh sing almost 15 years ago. He has been playing drums and singing at the same time since he was 10 years old. His influences are not just jazz but soul, funk and R&B. That’s why his approach to playing jazz is so unique. He has so many influences to draw from.’
In reference to the sax solo, how do you decide when it is appropriate to take a solo? Is it a decision dictated by the composition?
‘Being a saxophone player and the leader of the band, it is the focal point unless I’m singing or the composition is based on the vocal. But I like to make a personal contribution to songs that is representative of my own style. So it becomes mine.’
Anders Osbourne on…Slow Rollin’ Ride
‘This song is a collaboration with Anders Osbourne. It is not one of your typical rock songs as we went from soul/rock to expressionistic jazz in a cohesive way. Going from Anders blues singing to a McCoy Tyner-like piano solo, followed by me having some fun playing a sax solo, following the piano.’
Are there any records that first demonstrated to you that these soul, rock and jazz styles could work together cohesively? Any that have stuck with you and inform your current work?
‘No really. I just like the way certain instruments sound together. I get inspired to try something that comes straight from my imagination. Thats what drives me. I’m not trying to do something like someone else, I’m just trying to do the best me that I can.’
Warren Haynes on…Rise Above
‘I collaborated with the great rocker Warren Haynes on this one. Warren sings a haunting melody on this number. We wrote this song together in my studio and recorded it live. I think his steel guitar playing on this is some of the best I’ve ever heard from him. we were all inspired on this track when playing it live in the studio.’
Haynes has collaborated with a vast amount of artists, much like yourself. Do you think collaboration contributes to your betterment as a musician?
‘Sure. It gives you more versatility. I love playing with musicians from different genres as well. For me that’s fun.’