Jackson Evans has many things in common with Pat Metheny, John Pizzarelli, Wes Montgomery and the other great electric jazz guitarists, past and present. Among these: A light touch, precision, a vast vocabulary of chords and tonalities, and the ability to play just about anything and imbue it with his own palette of colors.
Ask Evans, however, and he’ll tell you he’s just too analytical; maybe it’s the degree in guitar performance he got from Utah State University. Improvisation, Evans says, is “not my natural approach to music. I’ve had to work on it. My natural approach is the theoretical, left-brained stuff. That’s where I’m a hundred percent comfortable. And the creative approach I’ve really had to make an effort to learn how to do.”
Still, after 10 years’ gigging in Savannah, he’s jamming pretty good. “I think the hardest part,” the 33-year-old says, “is sort of shutting up the left brain.”
Evans and his wife, the visual artist Maggie Evans, relocated here in 2004 so that she could go to graduate school. The daughter of a professional jazz saxophonist, Maggie was schooled in classical piano and clarinet. She took up electric bass in high school —and slammed it playing in punk bands. Eventually, she gravitated to jazz, along with her by-then-boyfriend Jackson (who’d started off emulating blues great Stevie Ray Vaughan).
“Maggie’s all right-brained,” he laughs. “She learned theory and knows it, but she never touches it when she’s playing. She’s all intuition and feel, and all experience. She played in her dad’s bands in college.”
In their earliest Savannah days, Jackson and Maggie were befriended by guitar great Howard Paul, who introduced them into the city’s jazz community. They had a trio for a few years called Silver Lining, and for pocket money traded off on bass duties with the blues band called Hitman. Today, they perform as a duo under their own names. She sings and plays bass, with him on guitar (that’d be Fridays at the 5 Spot).
Maggie also plays with saxophonist Jody Espina’s group at Rancho Alegre; Jackson, in turn, does a “solo” thing Thursdays at the 5 Spot (with guest performers) and two shows per week in Hilton Head.
“I wanted to be a performer,” Evans says. “I know that the business end of that is tricky, so I’ve always taught also. My first teacher put an enormous emphasis on pedagogy. And that’s a life skill to a performance major. For years, that was my bread and butter. I taught 30 students a week for more than a decade.”
He doesn’t teach (much) these days. He’s too busy.
In 2011 the couple traveled to Hangzhou, “China’s most beautiful city,” as part of a cultural exchange program, through one of Maggie’s art school contacts. “When we got there, there was a jazz club across the street from the school,” Evans explains. “Maggie walked in and got us a gig. It was that easy. We were playing six nights a week for the whole ten months we were there.”
They were booked for another six months at the club in 2013.
Evans is premiering a new jazz combo Saturday nights at Casimir’s Lounge, inside the Mansion at Forsyth Park. It’ll feature a “rotating cast of characters,” including Calvin Barnes (saxophone), Eric Jones (organ), Billy Hoffman (drums) and bassists including Linus Enoksson, Mitch Hennes and even Kenny Murphy from the rock trio Les Racquet, from light standards to fusion to everything in between.
“I want to keep it really fresh,” Evans reports. “I don’t want it to fall into me playing the same 15 or 20 songs every week.”
Jackson Evans has lots in common, too, with the old guard of Savannah jazz players—he wants to keep the scene fresh, and exciting, and to work hard to get new converts for the club.
What too often gets forgotten, he believes, is the “entertainment factor.”
“One of the big tragedies with jazz is that it’s become over-intellectualized,” he states.
“In New Orleans, where jazz was born, it’s drunk, high bar music. That’s the real heritage of this thing. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, when jazz moved into the colleges, I think it began to take itself too seriously.
“Playing music well should always be the priority. Do what you do best, kill it, be amazing and have a blast doing it.”
News you can use
• There’s been a proliferation of Open Mic nights lately. Of course, they’re all there in our weekly Soundboard listings, under Live Music. To expedite matters, there’s a brand-spanking-new Facebook page called Open Mic Savannah, a sort of central location for all things Open Mic. Check it out.
• The Westin Harbor Savannah has begun a series of “Friday Sunset Parties” by the pool, every week from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. There are two price levels, one with alcohol, the other with alcohol and food. There’ll always be live entertainment, and for my money you can’t beat Savannah’s muscle-powered R&B horn band, Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love, playing Aug. 8, 15 and 22 (along with the Fundamentals). Doug Marshall is your music guy this week (Aug. 1). See westinsavannah.com.
• There are still a couple of slots open in the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum’s annual Cigar Box Guitar-Making Workshop, one of our city’s coolest hands-on musical experiences. You too can wail on three strings! Get all the info you need on the Aug. 23 event at shipsofthesea.org.