School Library Journal
With Brooks (coauthor of Shirley Verrett's autobiography, I Never Walked Alone), Evans here recounts his career as alto saxophonist for many of the most important African American musicians of the jazz, swing, and rhythm and blues eras of the early to mid-20th century. Active between 1939 and 1965, Evans played for such performers as Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Cab Calloway, and he recounts his performances and travels from Pensacola, FL, where he learned to play, to later tours with Lionel Hampton in Paris and Tel Aviv. Telling his story, Evans draws the reader into the lives, venues, destinations, and experiences of this musical time period. He also describes his role as a music executive and entrepreneur after his performing career under Ray Charles's Tangerine label. Including many rare and historical photographs and forewords by Tavis Smiley and Bill McFarlin (executive director, International Association of Jazz Educators), this is appropriate for any public or academic library.
Bradford Lee Eden
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Charming, straightforward autobiography of one of the great, unheralded figures in jazz and R&B. A well-respected saxophonist for Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Lionel Hampton, among others, Evans enjoyed a reputation for dependable, no-nonsense craftsmanship that provided him with a steady career remarkable for its longevity. (And flexibility: When the music business no longer provided enough of a living, he went to college and got a graduate degree at age 58 in 1974, then took a civil-service job with the state of New Jersey.) From his youth in the middle-class African-American neighborhoods of Pensacola, Fla., to his gigs in the house bands of New York's Apollo Theater and Savoy Ballroom, to the creation of his own record label in the 1960s, Evans's story serves as a history of American popular music and of the African-American experience during the mid-20th century. In many ways, his book provides a fitting counterbalance to the slew of tempestuous musical biographies that recount familiar tales of meteoric rises and tragic falls. While he kept his distance from the poor choices made by many better-known artists, Evans remained close enough to see the toll taken by alcohol and heroin on such colleagues as Holiday and Parker, both of whom he recalls with great respect and fondness. The lives of such figures have been mythologized elsewhere, but Evans gives the reader a fresh look at legends like Hampton and Armstrong, depicting them as working musicians rather than romanticized historical figures. His narrative is brought forth clearly and pleasurably, although perhaps too simplistically, by admiring coauthor Brooks (African American Studies andAnthropology/Virginia Commonwealth Univ.). Lightweight forewords by Tavis Smiley and Bill McFarlin trade in adulatory superlatives that would probably embarrass their modest, down-to-earth subject. With the grace and directness of a beloved grandparent, Evans captures both the rarified and mundane aspects of a life in music.
From the Publisher
“For every Armstrong or Ellington or Charlie Parker, there were countless musicians, their names unknown even to jazz fans, whose skill gave jazz the solid foundation it needed. In Follow Your Heart, jazz journeyman Joe Evans, now in his 90s, presents the story of the sideman, the unsung hero of the golden age of jazz, someone who could read music, learn new tunes quickly, take solos if necessary and swing all the time. . . . Thank you, Mr. Evans, not just for the music you made, but for the man you are.”The Washington Times
"Saxophonist Joe Evans' uncanny memory of his six-plus decades working alongside the legends and lesser-known heroes of jazz and R&B would be enough to make Follow Your Heart essential reading for serious students of American popular music. But this book does more than collect personal tales from an earlier cultural era. Evans crafts a funny, heartbreaking, and insightful account of living through the violence of Jim Crow segregation, shady business dealings, and the hazards of life on the road."Aaron Cohen, Associate Editor, DownBeat
"One of the best autobiographies that I have read in many years. Cleverly constructed and extremely well written, this phenomenal book gives a unique perspective into American music history through the challenges, trials, and accomplishments of one of the most underappreciated giants of the American music scene."Emmett G. Price III, author of Hip Hop Culture
"A personal, first-hand account of the many luminaries of black music whom Evans encountered during his lifetime. Through its thick, invaluable descriptions of jazz culture, Follow Your Heart is loaded with important occurrences in the development of African American musicnamely jazz and rhythm and bluesfrom the 1920s throughout the 1970s."Cheryl L. Keyes, author of Rap Music and Street Consciousness