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Meet Jeff Evans

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
My indoctrination was slow and peripheral, then fast and much more intense. As a fan of acid rock, and then, to an extent, progressive rock, I became enamored of a Chicago band, The Flock. They had a violinist, Jerry Goodman, who later played with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I never saw The Flock, but I did see the Mahavishnu Orchestra play live at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where I was a student at the time. So you might say that the Mahavishnu Orchestra was my gateway drug into jazz. But the real impetus was a bit later, when I had dropped out of RPI and was back in Chicago, dating a girl I knew from high school. Once when I asked what she might like to do on a date, she asked whether we might go to see a young jazz pianist named Monty Alexander, who was doing a stand at the London House. I said sure, and we went. We ordered drinks and they asked our ages, but didn't card us; we just said we were old enough (we weren't) and they didn't press the subject. On a later date she suggested Joe Williams at the Jazz Showcase. Both legendary clubs, and I understand the Showcase is still going, now operated by Joe Segal's son, Wayne. Well, the girlfriend left the picture shortly after, and I met the woman who I have been married to for more than 42 years. But the love of jazz has stayed with me. Much more recently I saw Monty Alexander play again, and had a chance to relay this story to him.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
For a long time, when our kids were young, our evenings out were limited by budget, time, and the paucity of available babysitters from the Gen-X generation. I got into it more frequently, and then regularly, after the kids were off at college. They're both in their 30's now.

How often do you go out to hear live music?
As often as my budget and schedule allow. I try to catch at least one performance a week. There are seasons, like from Thanksgiving through Christmas, where it's a bit of a challenge to work in music, with all the family things going on. I do make a special point of attending the annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival each August in New York, and I indulge my freejazz proclivities at the annual Vision Festival in May/June. For a couple of years, my wife and I made a long resort weekend of it at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, where WBGO hosts its annual gathering.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?
I have always been a process-oriented person. For me, witnessing a live performance, especially improvised music, is energizing. The vibe can be laid back or electric, and the sound is enveloping, even permeating. I like to hear some of my favorite musicians repeatedly, to hear them cover their familiar material in unfamiliar ways.

What are the elements of an amazing concert?
When the performers go all in, and lose themselves in the moment. I like to think that we in the audience complete the circuit to make the event a peak experience for everyone.

What is the most trouble you've gone to or the farthest you've traveled to get to a jazz performance?
Kurt Elling was performing at the McCarter Theater in Princeton with a group calling themselves the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars: Kenny Barron, Regina Carter, Russell Malone, Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and Johnathan Blake. I left my office in the Financial District early, took the train home to Maplewood, NJ, picked up the car, and drove to Princeton. Trouble is there was a jackknifed truck on Route 1 that had traffic backed up for more than half an hour. I parked illegally in the theater drop off area, and the security guard took pity on me. I got inside just after Kurt had begun his first number. The farthest I've ever traveled to get to a jazz performance was to Barcelona. I confess that I was already in Barcelona for a week's vacation, but found the Jamboree. There we heard maestro Harold Mabern with Eric Alexander, Ignasi Gonzalez , and Bernd Reiter.

Is there one concert that got away that you still regret having missed?
So many. One that comes to mind is back with the girlfriend before meeting my wife. We were going to see Miles Davis at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. There was quite a crowd outside. No one was being let in to the theatre. Turns out Miles cancelled the performance due to illness. I never did get to see him.

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