Reverend Zen: Angels, Blues and the Crying Moon
“ I always liked a Wayne Shorter quote I read once. He said,'Relax, it's only music.' ”
The New York group Reverend Zen has released its debut album, Angels, Blues & the Crying Moon (Blackjack Music, 2006), that is quickly garnering music industry acclaim around the world. Platitudes aside, Reverend Zen's true genius lies in its music. The album is everything a great album should be: melodies that hang in your head like an old friend, dead-on drum tracks, bad-ass guitar solos, and subtleties that slowly reveal themselves, supporting lyrics of wit, introspection and cultural commentary.
A decade of tempering until just the right balance of every needed ingredient was achieved, Angels, Blues, & the Crying Moon is proving worth the wait. It's now taking Reverend Zen's mix of rock and jazz to the world stage.
All About Jazz: Why is there so little information on you, with your bio more less repeated on your website and in various reviews of Reverend Zen?
Jack Evans: Well, when the Reverend Zen CD was released, a publicist and I compiled basic background info and we then wrote the Reverend Zen bio. The Reverend Zen CD, Angels, Blues & the Crying Moon, is on my own independent label named Blackjack Music. At this point I'm the PR department, along with a whole lot of other things, so the basic Reverend Zen bio, with updates, is what goes out to expedite things. There's only so many hours in the day.
AAJ: Who is Jack Evans?
JE: I grew up in the Midwest, three and a half hours west of Chicago in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area which has a population of about 175,000. I played my first bar gig on drums when I was 13. The first song I played publicly was "High Heel Sneakers" with a really great organ trio. I got to play with a lot of older musicians in town because a couple of my drum teachers were always recommending me. Some of the bars were some really tough joints, but the older guys always watched out for me. Usually the music was a mix of everything: soul, R&B, top forty, rock, blues, jazz. We played at bars, concerts, the YMCA, school dances, the Elks Club and American Legion Hall. I played a lot with Billy Lee Janey, who's still on the scene back there and considered one of the best blues guitarists in that area of the country.
Musically, I really gravitated toward James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Paul Butterfield and then Miles Davis at that age. Miles took awhile to fully digest though. I eventually ended up seeing Miles play more than forty times before he passed. Even when he was 60 years old you could still count on ten minutes of an absolutely brilliant solo from him. I think he was also one of the greatest blues players ever. These days the musician I never miss seeing is saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The guy is 75, has a great band, is an incredible composer and still plays his ass off. I'm sure he has some direct lineage that stretches back to the Buddha.
To hear live music during that time I'd ride a Greyhound into Chicago with friends. I got to check out James Cotton, the Butterfeld Blues Band, McCoy Tyner, Weather Report, Muddy Waters, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Booker T and the MGs and Miles Davis. One of the most incredible nights of music I ever heard was Stan Getz with a band of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Airto (Moiera) and Tony Williams. Tony Williams was an absolute beast. Then when I was sixteen I made it to one of the old Newport Jazz Festivals. Everyone played there that year. Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Jeff Beck, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Led Zepplin, Johnny Winter, Sly and the Family Stone, Buddy Rich, Frank Zappa and James Brown.
I also found a clear channel radio station from Rochester, New York, that we could pick up in Iowa in those days. They broadcast a really eclectic mix of jazz, blues and early fusion late at night with a DJ named Bill Ardis. He mixed a lot of the best music from different genres, which I loved to hear.
AAJ What is your musical background? Are you formally trained or are you self taught? I see from album credits you play drums, percussion, some keyboards and handle lead vocals.
JE: Besides drum lessons and some piano lessons as a kid, I'd also do the occasional lead vocal. I spent a couple years at the University of Iowa. I took literature courses and studied percussion with a guy named William Parsons, who'd performed with the composer Harry Partch, and I did some 20th Century music performances with the University's Center for New Music.