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Meet Jeff Evans

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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If you could go back in time and hear one of the jazz legends perform live, who would it be?
Again, so many. Miles, of course. I would love to have been in the studio when Money Jungle [with Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach] was recorded. Also, not exactly jazz, but certainly jazz-adjacent: Lord Buckley.

What makes a great jazz club?
Sometimes friends will ask me "What's a good place to go to hear some jazz?" Fortunately here in the New York City we are richly blessed with venues. I prefer to tell them, "Don't pick a place, pick the musicians." So for me a great club is one where great musicians play. That said, a great club is a listening room, not a bar or restaurant with background music. The staff, bartenders, and, yes, patrons should be welcoming. Nice food and beverages are a plus.

Which club(s) are you most regularly to be found at?
Because of where I work (lower Manhattan) and my commute, as well as the variety of musicians who can be found performing there, the West Village clubs are my first choice. In order, I am most often found at the 55 Bar, Mezzrow, and Smalls Jazz Club. I have been known to head as far uptown as Harlem and cross over to Brooklyn on occasion too.

Is there a club that's no longer around that you miss the most?
This one may not make anyone else's "most missed" list, but another West Village place, the Garage, is mine. Odd because it wasn't as much of a listening room as some others (mostly a bar/restaurant), but it did start sets at 6PM and I would go there, have a drink and listen before heading off to another club. I also heard some of my favorite artists for the first time there, so it was a great way for me to be exposed to new artists.

Do you have a favorite jazz anecdote?
I have to say my favorite, though seldom told, jazz anecdote involves me, my then-girlfriend-now-wife, Julie, and the Judy Roberts Trio. We were at one of the Lincoln Avenue clubs in Chicago. By this time, Julie and I were getting pretty serious. Anyway, the way I remember it, I proposed, and she said yes. Ask her and she will probably tell you it was the other way around. Anyway, whoever asked and whoever answered, it has worked out for the best. I also remember Judy doing a song, "I Want to be Seduced," which was made famous by Leon Redbone, which she says makes the song even funnier. It became her kinda signature song. She's now based in Phoenix.

How do you discover new artists?
One way is I listen to WBGO (88.3 FM, wbgo.org online) quite a bit. That's how I first heard Maria Schneider. Another major way is the "six degrees" method. Who was a guest on so and so's gig? This is how Melissa Stylianou led me to Amy Cervini, and Amy to so many others. Festivals are also great ways. I first heard Cecile McLorin Salvant, Aaron Diehl, and Sheila Jordan that way. Sheila is certainly not a new artist, but was once new to me. Friends' recommendations and house concerts, if you are lucky enough to get plugged in to them, are others.

How did you get into photographing at gigs?
I have been taking photographs semi-seriously for many years. In my more self-promotional moments, I tell people I have had my images exhibited in galleries and museums (including MoMA), and published in books and periodicals, and some people have actually purchased prints for their collections. For a while I took courses to get access to the school darkrooms, but eventually I set up a darkroom in my basement. I spent a lot of time shooting my daily commute between Maplewood, NJ and my office near Wall Street. When I changed jobs and was working in Midtown, I started photographing above ground, on the street. I called it my 5/6/7/8 project, as I noticed that each avenue had a distinct culture.

While casting about for a new project, I thought of shooting musicians in performance. I actually took a class in photographing musicians at the International Center of Photography, taught by Merri Cyr. She was great, offering not just technical and aesthetic guidance, but pulling back the curtain on the etiquette of shooting the music scene in New York. Our final project was to shoot at one or another of the Ludlow Street clubs where she'd arranged permission for us. It gave me courage to start asking bookers, proprietors, and especially musicians, if I could shoot the performance. I always offered to share images with the musicians. I have made many friends of musicians this way. As Facebook and other social media took off, some of my images have gotten traction. Maybe not all-out viral, but noticed.

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