Professor co-authors a book about the life and times of saxophonist Joe Evans
Monday, March 10, 2008
Virginia Commonwealth University Anthropology and African American Studies Professor Christopher Brooks was not surprised to see the older man sitting among the students in his African-American music survey course. After all, VCU has a longstanding policy of allowing senior citizens to audit classes of interest. But it didn’t take Brooks long to realize Joe Evans was no ordinary student.
“It was one of our first classes and I got to talking about Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and some other jazz legends and he said, ‘Oh, I played with them,’” Brooks said. “What I ultimately discovered is that he could have taught the course himself.”
What started as a professor-student relationship in the classroom in the fall of 1994 blossomed into a longtime friendship. Brooks spent many hours listening to Joe Evans recall his nearly 30-year career as an alto saxophonist, playing with some of America’s greatest musicians. In addition to Armstrong and Parker, Evans performed with Cab Calloway, Jay McShann, Andy Kirk, Billie Holiday, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lionel Hampton and Ivory Joe Hunter.
“He was mentioning names of people I had only read about. And he knew them! He traveled with them, performed with them and had a lot of contact with them. And as a society, I think it’s important for us not to lose touch with those great musicians and that era,” Brooks said.
Brooks began writing down Evans’ humorous and sometimes heartbreaking stories. The result is “Follow Your Heart: Moving With the Giants of Jazz, Swing and Rhythm and Blues,” published by University of Illinois Press in March 2008. The book represents Evans’ recollections of his life and offers his reflections as a musician, music executive and entrepreneur. Evans also discusses the development of African-American music and society as well as race relations and segregation in the music industry.
Evans is now 91 and describes the book as a thorough representation of his life. “I don’t know how much time I have left,” Evans said. “But I think Christopher Brooks has done an excellent job in helping me tell my story.”
Brooks said he’s honored to have been a part of it.
“He has a phenomenal memory and an incredible recollection of details. This is a fabulous story. It’s an American story. And most importantly, I’m glad he’s here to see this book published,” Brooks said.