Evans, Herschel (1909–1939)

By: David Minor

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: July 31, 2020

Herschel Evans, musician and composer, was born in Denton, Texas, in 1909 and spent some of his childhood in Kansas City, Kansas, where his cousin Eddie Durham was a trombonist and guitarist. Durham persuaded him to switch from alto to tenor sax, the instrument that ultimately established Evans's reputation. After perfecting his craft in the famous jam sessions held in the jazz district between Twelfth and Eighteenth streets in Kansas City, Evans returned to Texas in the 1920s and joined the Troy Floyd orchestra in San Antonio in 1929. He stayed with the band until it dispersed in 1932. Evans performed for a time with Lionel Hampton and Buck Clayton in Los Angeles and in the mid-1930s returned to Kansas City to become a featured soloist in Count Basie's big band.

For the next three years Evans's reputation as a tenor saxophonist was at its peak. His musical duels with fellow band member Lester Young are considered jazz classics. Count Basie's popular "One O'Clock Jump" featured the contrasting styles of the two musicians and brought to each the praise of both critics and the general public. The composition displayed Evans's full-bodied, emotional timbre and Young's high-pitched, light, and buoyant tone, contrasting sounds that highlighted each other. Evans's greatest single success was his featured solo in Basie's hit "Blue and Sentimental."

Evans also made records with such notable jazz figures as Harry James, Theodore S. (Teddy) Wilson, and Lionel Hampton. Evans has been credited with influencing fellow tenorists Buddy Tate, Illinois Jacquet, and Arnett Cobb. Although not a prolific composer, Evans wrote a number of popular works, including the hits "Texas Shuffle" and "Doggin' Around." On February 9, 1939, at the age of thirty, he died of heart disease in New York City.

Frank Driggs and Harris Lewine, Black Beauty, White Heat: A Pictorial History of Classic Jazz, 1920–1950 (New York: Morrow, 1982). Leonard G. Feather, The Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Horizon, 1955; rev. ed., New York: Bonanza, 1960). Len Lyons, The 101 Best Jazz Albums (New York: Morrow, 1980). Ross Russell, Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971).

  • Music
  • Genres (Jazz)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

David Minor, “Evans, Herschel,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/evans-herschel.

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July 31, 2020

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