In the late 1930’s, the Count Basie Orchestra featured two tenor saxophonists: Lester Young and Herschel Evans of Denton. Books, movies and thousands of words have, rightfully, been dedicated to the former. Only a true jazz geek knows of the latter. Herschel was born in Denton on March 9, 1909, and is found at our Ancestry.com database in the 1930 Census where he appears to be living with an aunt in Bexar County, Texas (San Antonio) while working in the Troy Floyd Orchestra. Click on image below for larger size:
In the census record you can see three important pieces of information that prove this is the same Mr. Evans: 21 years of age, Negro, and musician employed in an orchestra. Here is an early recording with Floyd from 1929, Dreamland Blues. His solo starts @ 1:58.
There is a storied Texas Tenor saxophonist tradition going back to Herschel and on through to Buddy Tate, Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, David “Fathead” Newman, King Curtis, Donald Wilkerson, Booker Ervin, James Clay, Marchel Ivery, on up to UNT alum Shelley Carrol who performs regularly in Dallas. The thread that runs through all of them is a full-bodied tone that always has a blues flavor.
By the mid-’30s, he was working in Kansas City and landed a seat in the Count Basie Orchestra when they expanded their size after being signed to Decca Records in 1936. In the Basie band, he finally achieved fame through the following recordings (with time his solos start): One O’ Clock Jump 00:45, Doggin’ Around 00:40, Texas Shuffle 1:56 and his most famous solo performance, Blue and Sentimental.
Herschel died at age 29 in 1939 of a heart attack and was replaced in the Basie band by fellow Texan, Buddy Tate. It was said that Lester mourned his section mate, paid his funeral expenses, and Evans’ passing may have helped precipitate his leaving Basie the next year. Here is footage of the Count Basie Orchestra at Randall’s Island in New York City in 1938. The music on the video is overdubbed but, at 1:41, you can see him sitting down with his sax to the right of singer Jimmy Rushing who is standing.
posted by Chuck.