In many ways, Orrin Evans is emblematic of the jazz hustle. He's always in action — with peers on the bandstand, club managers on the phone and his fans online. Evans workshops a big-band project in his native Philadelphia, and lately he's released two recordings a year, not including his numerous sideman dates. This is the requisite effort of a jazz musician with kids.
"There are two people that I looked at musically and as role models for fathers and husbands," Evans says. "[Recently deceased Philly bassist] Charles Fambrough and Bobby Watson."
Last year, the pianist released Faith in Action, an unofficial tribute to Watson, the veteran saxophonist who hired Evans for his Urban Renewal band in 1995. Watson, 57, was a member of drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the perpetual hothouse for young musicians willing to earn their merit badge on the road. He is now the Distinguished Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Evans recalls when Watson hung up his spurs.
"Bobby called me and told me he was moving back to Kansas to teach," Evans says. "I was like, 'Bobby's going to teach? He's been on the road for almost 30 years. You can't take him and lock him up!' He's doing a great thing over there, and touching so many lives."
In May 2010, Watson made a rare return to the New York jazz scene, and he did it to perform with Orrin Evans. Naturally, WBGO invited them to our performance studio. In this studio session for The Checkout, they played a single duet, Watson's "Beatitudes," and three songs with bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Vince Ector. "Faith in Action," one of many memorable Bobby Watson compositions, is itself a tribute to Watson's own mentor.
"Art Blakey personified faith in action," Watson says. "They say faith without works is dead, but Art was like, 'Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.' "