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John Robert Brown
I first knew James Evans when he was in college in Leeds, around twenty years ago. Then he was working with the Phil Mason band. "I did the best part of two years on the road with him," says Evans. "That was fun, though very gruelling. At the end I was getting fed up with the lack of rest. One Christmas I ended up in bed for a couple of weeks. I was quite spoiled for drummers. I played with Ron Mackay, who was Acker's old drummer, with Colin Bowden, and with the late Pete Cotterill, who swung like the clappers. The next big thing was a move to London, and doing a blues band with the singer Angela Brown." Evans eventually got back together with reed player Jonny Boston. The pair had been together at college. "That was with The Boston Tea Party," says Evans. Jonny Boston has now moved to the Netherlands.
"Ever since then it's bean bits and pieces, including vintage workwith Keith Nicholls," says Evans. "And I've had my own band for the last seven years, which primarily plays my own compositions. It doesn't readily fit a pigeon hole. Mostly, I get gigs for my own band on the strength of my reputation in the traditional scene. Sometimes it's met with slight confusion, but usually it goes down well. I really do believe in it.
"I've moved away from the tribute scene now, where I was always playing the part of Barney Bigard or Omer Simeon," he says. "And I've been playing quite a bit of alto in funky New Orleans brass bands. There's a band called the Brass Volcanoes, a slightly anglicised version, I suppose, with a bit of Balkan brass band influence coming in as well. The category is slightly confusing, a sort of east European thing, with two tubas, two tenor horns, two trumpets, alto and Eb clarinet, playing in nine, or something."
He laughs. "It's funky in its own way. Strange how the influence of that seems natural once you've got a New Orleans brass band, like the Jewish or Irish influence in New Orleans music. I think that might be underplayed. "Lately I've come into contact with lot of young players who don't all want to stand there demonstrating their mastery of the Lydian-Augmented mode. For example, during the last year I've been doing gigs for a scene that's sprung up in London, where twenty-year-olds listen to twenties and thirties swing. Sometimes they dress up in twenties clothes. At one gig there's an absinthe bar, for folk to get smashed. They don't necessarily know about the rest of the jazz scene. I met someone who thought he was the only person who listened to Fats Waller. "My clarinet bell is modelled on a Jazzophone. There are pictures of Alphonse Picou playing a Jazzophone, which Buffet made in the twenties because they couldn't sell clarinets. At the time, everyone wanted saxophones. The Buffet people thought that they'd make a clarinet that looked a bit like a saxophone. My own prototype has a square profile, but now they are round. I made one out of papier-mâché, which occupies exactly the same volume. I packed clay into the original bell on my Selmer Centred Tone clarinet, then bent the clay over and built it over the top. It plays in tune, and I can hear myself. And if you have a microphone to play into, all of the difficult questions of where you position it are resolved. Now I couldn't go back. I tried, and thought: 'Why did I put up with this?' You can hear exactly what you are playing, and it goes into the mike nicely. "I'm doing a new CD in early Spring, with my Rocket Five, with the added violin of Ben Holder. Also in the band are Alan Barnes, Tom Kincaid, Jake Gill and Jules Fenton."
John Robert Brown