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George Evans: Interview 1

Interview One: A Great Innovator

Biography of the vocalist and saxophonist George Evans: adapted from an article by Les Evans.

 

Born in North London, George was the first musician on either side of the family.He first started by playing ukelele-banjo at the age of 13, with a little band called The Yale Five. The leader was Norrie Paramor, who was about 15 or 16 years old. A little gang of kids used to stand in the street and listen to them rehearse in Norrie's front room.

Meanwhile, George started to play saxophone at 14, and was doing local gigs at age 15. So much so, that the school Headmaster spoke to his parents, and said "This banding (as he called it) is interfering with his studies. Either he stops, or he has to leave school". So George left. That same Headmaster about five years later at a prize-giving was heard to say "and we must not forget our celebrated ex-pupil, George Evans, who may be heard each week on the radio". George by that time was with Sydney Lipton at the Grosvenor House.

His first professional job at 16, was at Talza's Ballroom, Southend, with Sonny Winter's Band, and from there he went on to Sherry's, Brighton, with Al Lever's Band.

Aged about 18, he was resident at the Spider's Web roadhouse, Watford-by-pass, with Freddie Bretherton's Band, and already doing arrangements as well as playing tenor. Freddie got the job on piano with Syd Lipton, and soon encouraged Syd to send for George to join the band, along with bass-player Will Hemmings. That was 1935, and George wrote scores for the Lipton band, played tenor, and sang.

Harry Hayes joined Syd Lipton, the following year, in 1936, and the two of' them had a great musical influence one upon the other. Then in 1938, Geraldo formed a band that was totally unlike his previous Gaucho Tango Orchestra . . . a bit bigger band than Syd Lipton's . . . and he went in at the Savoy Hotel. George and Harry Hayes left Syd Lipton to join Geraldo at that time. There is no doubt that George virtually moulded the style of that band. He scored practically every arrangement that Geraldo played, between 1938 and 1942. His own tenor sounds, and that of Harry Hayes on alto, were always very distinctive. Amongst Geraldo's usual battery of vocalists, George used to sing the brighter numbers.

In February 1940, George joined the Welsh Guards Band, followed the very next day by Harry Hayes. Plenty of service musicians stationed in or near London, carried on playing with civilian bands.

Geraldo was broadcasting many times every week, and his signature tune 'Hello Again', which George composed and arranged, became famous at home and abroad.

Then, due to quite a lot of newspaper publicity, the War Office, or Home Office, whoever clamped down, issued an edict and Geraldo lost about seven or eight musicians more or less overnight: George, Harry, Nat Temple, Ronnie Priest, Jack Bentley, Jimmy Coombs, and others. George had also been running his own band at the Embassy Club, called Saxes 'n Sevens: three altos, four tenors, four rhythm. They also played at the Jazz Jamboree of 1941, and some of the saxes connected with either the Club or the Jamboree were George, Harry Hayes, Les Gilbert, Jimmy Durrant, Poggy Pogson, Tommy Bradbury, Andy McDevitt, Norman Maloney, Aubrey Frank, with Bobby Midgeley, drums and George Shearing, or Ronnie Selby on piano.

Later on, George also did a weekly broadcast with the George Melachrino combined Forces Orchestra, played, sang, and did one arrangement a week for them.

All this was going on whilst doing parades with the Welsh Guards band, and arranging, playing and singing with the Guards dance orchestra.

In 1944, still in the Army, he scored ten arrangements to fulfil an ambition he had for a long time. This was for five trumpets, ten saxes, and four rhythm, and recorded on Decca with the top session men of the day.

Four sides were cut on the first sessions. Also, because George was still in the Guards, they were released under the name of the George Evans Orchestra, directed by his brother Leslie Evans. The other six sides were cut at different times, and with a variety of players, but were not released at the time.

In 1946, January, George came out of the Welsh Guards, and formed a ten saxes, five trumpets band. Many of the musicians were younger players, who could stay with him, and go out on the road. They rehearsed for some months, did a few gigs, and then played at Hammersmith Palais for three months, but the long and heavy work-toll over the many years took effect, and George had to go into a Sanatorium with T.B. that September, just at the end of the Palais period. George asked his brother Les to front the band to go out on the road, so Les gave up all his teaching, and they played all over the country, between September 1946 and February 1947, when the band folded.

When George recovered from an operation, and from lengthy treatment, he had to re-plan his career. He sang with Geraldo again, did arrangements for various bands, and also formed a very advanced Student Orchestra. This led him, in 1949 to form another band, this time with four trumpets, four trombones, six saxes and four rhythm. They played all over the country, and then in 1951, George secured the residency at the Oxford Galleries, Newcastle, from 1951 to 1957, during which time the format gradually changed to eight saxes, four trumpets, and one trombone, rhythm and vocalists.

George Evans conventional sax section in 1949

From left: Jackie Sprague, Brian Gray, Ron Fry, Johnny Hughes, Tony Symes, Roy Bull

The band made some very successful strict-tempo recordings. In fact, after George retired in 1957, he was persuaded to come down to London, where a big session-band was fixed for him, to record in the huge organ-hall at the Alexandra Palace. That was 1958. The mono versions were sold in Britain, and the mono and stereo LPs were sold in America.

Then then was a very big gap, when he never played or wrote a note of music, right up to 1980. He started to play a little, just by doing multiple track recording at home, writing four or five parts, and playing them himself by recording over. This led George to practise really hard to regain his embouchure, and his technique. His ear was always fantastic anyway. He started to play with local Newcastle bands, some jazz at local pubs, and helped to rehearse school Youth Orchestras.

Before his 70th birthday, in 1985, he formed a big band, from local professionals and teachers, of eleven saxes, including George, five trumpets, five trombones, four rhythm and vocalists. He rehearsed the band for some weeks, then put on a Night of Nostalgia on his birthday, at the Mayfair Ballroom, Newcastle. He re-scored many of his best arrangements to bring in the five trombones.

1,400 people danced that night, the majority of them middle-aged, with many who met, got engaged and married, from the days at the Oxford Galleries, back in 195l-57.

Harking back to the ten saxes, five trumpets band, George was always asked, "why no trombones, don't you like them?" That wasn't the point. George wanted, and obtained an individual, and a different sound. So the next question usually followed "But how do you score and voice for tensaxes?" Again it didn't really apply. George used five trumpets as one section, five altos (two doubling soprano) as another section, and four tenors and a baritone (one tenor doubling bass saxophone) as a third section. This gave scope, anyway, for all sorts of permutations. Otherwise there were counter-lines, interweaving, and big ensemble passages just like any other band with three sections of trumpets, trombones and saxes.

The 10 saxophone band, left to right: Frank Rogers(soprano) Roy Ringrose(soprano), Charlie Payne, Freddy Syer,Charles Chapman(altos); Dennis Hughes, Erik Maxwell, Don Rendell (tenors); Kenny Kaye and Syd Dowell (Baritones)

Many thanks to Roy Bull for supplying this photograph and to Pete Warner for identifying the players in both pictures.

There were not all that many occasions when the ten saxes played as a block ensemble. At those times George would use five or six part harmony spread across through the octaves. But it was very impressive indeed when the ten stood up together, sopranos, altos, tenors, baritone and bass sax.

 

A number of well-known musicians, who were young at the time they played with George's earlier bands, have said how much they were influenced in their careers, by George.

He taught without teaching. His presence, his aims, his writing and his playing were enough to rub off on everyone around him.

He made hundreds of friends . . . and fans . . . and no enemies.

Adapted from an article by Les Evans