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Book Review

Follow Your Heart


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Follow Your Heart
Joe Evans
Hardcover; 151 pages.
ISBN: 978 0 252 03303 2
University of Illinois Press

Saxophonist Joe Evans isn't a musician who immediately springs to mind when discussing the jazz pantheon. He's a player who has slipped through the holes of even the most diligent critical net—which, though it might sound curious, makes this autobiography a particularly valuable one. In the course of it, Evans throws revealing light on the status of the humble sideman, in a manner that only the select likes of fellow saxophonist Marshall Royal have previously achieved—which goes to show that beneath the ranks of the major names there are legions of professional musicians who in their modest way contribute to the music and its development. In Evans's case that's doubly true, and for all the right reasons given the wealth and diversity of his experiences.

Primarily an alto player, Evans worked with figures as diverse as singer Billie Holiday, trumpeter Louis Armstrong, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and pianist Ivory Joe Hunter, and in that respect he's proven himself to be nothing if not adaptable. One of the joys of this book is the extent to which Evans patently believes in the redemptive power of music making. The reader is left in no doubt in this regard.

Evans is illuminating too on the realities of life as a working musician, and how to make the most of opportunities that come your way. He's evidently been driven by a sense of mission, of a kind that could only come to a man born into a family for whom every dollar had to be squeezed until the eagle grinned. Indeed, that might have been the very thing that has led him to diversify in the course of his professional life, first as promotional director for the Cee Jay and Tangerine record labels, then as the founder of Carnival, his own record label, and Brightstar, his own publishing company.

The book's title comes into its own for different reasons however. Evans re-entered education at a relatively late stage in life, and he is as vocal an advocate of the value of lifelong learning as he is the power of music. Coming to that experience in the wake of running his own label, also gives the reader no little insight into his trajectory through the music and his wealth of experience of the business side of it. In short, Evans obtained his educational qualifications after the event that was his working life. That alone is a measure of the man.

Evans is nothing if not a modest individual, however. His undoubted abilities as a survivor, and an exceptionally adaptable one at that, don't come through via any grandiose prose or empty bragging. Self-aggrandizement is clearly alien to the man's nature and what emerges instead is a portrait of a man for whom life has held far more blessings than curses. He counts most if not all of the former here, but in a winning way that reflects the enduring qualities of the music of which he's been an integral part. The fact that he's managed to deal with the business side of it without being reduced to malice is also testament to his strength of character.

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