HERSCHEL EVANS: two pieces of information to his early life
HERSCHEL EVANS was the first and also remains – somewhat - the model for what is known as Texas Tenor. Texas Tenor is a very earthy , moaning approach to the tenor saxophone that is, nevertheless, emulative of the first school of tenor saxophone - Coleman Hawkins’ conception. Evans is also known as the other tenor saxophonist (Lester Young being the primary) in the original Count Basie Orchestra; but, candidly, he is all but forgotten. Herschel Evans was also short lived. He died of heart disease on February 9, 1939, a remarkably young man. I am going to provide some important information about his earliest times.
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH
All early references to Herschel Evans are vague about his age at the time of his death and never offer a specific birthday, much less year of birth. This would include obituaries contemporaneous to the Texan’s passing. The listing in the first “Encyclopedia of Jazz” reads the same as those published in later editions and, also, elsewhere into this century: “b. Denton, Texas; 1909”. Wikipedia offers “March 9, 1939” as Evans’ birth date. That is not the date.
I actually knew or at least met every member of the original Count Basie Orchestra except Evans who died well before my birth. I was also particularly close to Buddy Tate, who replaced Herschel Evans in the Count Basie Orchestra very soon after Evans’ death. The Texan’s music moved me deeply and with his primary musical associates also being my Jazz teacher’s, I pressed them for background on the Texan (Evans was occasionally referred to by them (and, also, others as “The Texan”) and I was well rewarded. Still, none of theBasieites – nobody – could do better than he was from Denton, Texas and about thirty years old when he died.
Herschel’s birth date has been discovered! He was born in Temple, Texas on May 1, 1910. The Texan only made it to 28.
HERSCHEL EVANS’ FIRST RECORDING
The first listing for Herschel Evans to surface in early discography (e.g. “New Hot Discography” in 1948) is for TROY FLOYD AND HIS SHADOWLAND ORCHESTRA and their two recording dates, including the second of June 21, 1929 with “Dreamland Blues” in Parts I & II taking up both sides of OKeh 8719. By the 1970 edition of “Brian Rust’s Jazz Records A-Z, 1897 - 1942”, discography took note of the fact that Scott Bagby plays in the reeds with leader Troy Floyd and N. J. “Siki” Collins on the earlier March 14, 1928 session and that he is replaced by Herschel Evans on the June 21, 1929 second date.
Over time, a concern emerged over whether Evans is truly on the “Dreamland Blues” in Parts I & II on OKeh 8719 from the second (and last) session and what does he do on it.
“Dreamland Blues” Part I has some adlibbed soprano sax or clarinet over the ensemble as the side concludes. Part II has a clarinet solo and a tenor saxophone solo. Jo Jones knew the tenor sax solo on Part II as by the young Herschel and stated that Evans had a copy that they listen to together. Evans identified the solo as by himself and Herschel still owned a copy of the record (OKeh 8719) as late as 1937 or 38. Buddy Tate, who met Herschel Evans in 1926, also knew that this tenor solo was played by Herschel Evans. [Tate also assumed that Siki(pronounced Sigh’-kie) Collins played the adlibbed upper register reed work at the end of Part I but Tate did not speak to the clarinet solo on Part II.] These identifications by Count Basie alumni were made to me during the 1970s; Papa Jo Jones stated his particulars on the radio in August of 1978 during my production of a Herschel Evans Festival.
That would seem to settle the matter(s) but there is controversy over the tenor solo on “Dreamland Blues Part II” (near the two minute mark).
Scott Bagby, known to have played in Floyd's orchestra, identified himself as the player of this chorus and his statement – as a primary - is difficult to refute. Still, I believe that Bagby was mistaken.
I believe my own interviews with Jo and Buddy precede the Bagby statement. Regardless as to whether my 1970s efforts provide the earlier citations, the strongest and earliest evidence came from Herschel Evans, himself, when he roomed with Jo Jones during their years together with Basie. Jo stated Evans, who Papa Jo related had an in band nickname “Puny”, carried the record, OKeh 8719, with him, and identified the tenor solo as by himself.
Still further, the premier 78 era discographer, Brian Rust, makes the specific notation for the Troy Floyd June 21, 1929 session “… Herschel Evans, cl, ts, replaces Bagby.” It is the only specific personnel change in the current Rust edition (2002) listing from the previous Troy Floyd recording session of March 14, 1928.
Finally, characteristics of the mature Evans – at least some hints – are audible in the tenor solo during Part II of the “Dreamland Blues”. There are no tenor solos on the earlier Troy Floyd session – March 14, 1928 – that does have Bagby and not Evans.
Scott Bagby made no other recording sessions! We have no tenor sax action by Bagby to compare to the tenor saxophone solo on “Dreamland Blues” Part II. Though, I’d prefer that we could compare other work by Bagby to the tenor sax solo on “Dreamland Blues”, the bottom line must be that it’s Herschel Evans on the June 21, 1929 Troy Floyd recording.