Q&A: Orrin Evans On The Economics Of Trio Albums, Jazz Musicians' Constant Reinvention, And Records That Are Too Long
Pianist Orrin Evans is a busy man. With nearly 20 albums out under his own leadership and a slew of impressive sideman performances to his credit, he's built a sterling reputation on the modern, straight-ahead jazz scene. His music has melody and swing, with a dash of groove here and there, and he frequently pays tribute to Philadelphia, the city where he was raised and educated. His 2011 album Freedom featured Philly-based musicians exclusively, including saxophonist Larry McKenna, well-known at home but not exactly a household name nationally.
Evans' latest release, Flip The Script, is a trio disc featuring bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards. In addition to eight originals, the concise collection (10 tracks in 45 minutes) features the band's interpretations of "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "The Sound of Philadelphia," better known as the theme song to Soul Train. To celebrate its release, he's playing three nights at the Jazz Standard starting Tuesday, July 17, with the band growing larger night by night. On Tuesday, he'll play with a different trio, made up of bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Obed Calvaire. On Wednesday, that group will be augmented by trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist Tim Warfield. On Thursday, the Captain Black Big Band, featuring four trumpets, four trombones and four saxophones in addition to the trio, will take over. This interview was conducted on July 9, while Evans was in Japan backing saxophonist Seamus Blake.
What gave you the idea to do three nights with three bands?
It's basically an idea that stemmed a while ago, from wanting to do something consecutive at a club in New York, and since I've done all these different projects, if I had done it solely under [the auspices of] my own record label, the different records I've done on that label. But it ended up being based on my recent record, Flip The Script, which is on Posi-Tone, but I said, we can still do the same type of idea. Although I've never done a quintet record on Posi-Tone yet. So basically it was just an idea my wife and I had a few years ago, but I'd never been able to bring it to fruition, and we're really excited to do it at the Jazz Standard.
How much overlap will there be in the set lists? Will people be able to hear three different versions of some tunes if they come every night?
Exactly. Probably about three or four tunes will overlap, but the majority of what the trio plays, I'm going to really stick to the present record. The quintet, we have some other tunes that we've been playing as a group, but there's some overlap with the big band. And I know some people will actually think about that, and worry, "Well, I don't want to go back and hear the same music," but I think that's kind of fun, actually, to see how it's interpreted by a different ensemble. If it was another club, you'd go back and hear the same music and the exact same band. But now you get a chance to hear other cats interpret the same tunes, and that's exciting to me and I hope it's going to be exciting for the audience after Tuesday night, like, "Oh, let's go back on Wednesday and see what they do." So some overlap, but not completely. It won't be the same exact set.
Is this trioVicente Archer and Obed Calvaireis this a regular group for you, or a rhythm section you hired for this set of dates?
Well, I've always considered myself a little different than other leaders, because you tend to have what you described, a regular working trio. I'm blessed to have a family of people who I can call, and that could be five or six different people on bass, five or six different people on drums. We all are familiar with the same book of music, familiar with the same language, and when we get together we just see what happens with the tunes that might be different than the other bass player and drummer that had played it. So it's not regular in the sense that we have always played together, but we have played together and we've played some of this music together. And they're part of the family. In these times, unless you're on the road at least 10 months out of the year, it's pretty hard to have a regular working trio. So I try to just have people I've played with, and played this music with. So it's regular in that they're part of the family that I've been able to build over the past 17 years.