Friday, July 05, 2002

For Woody Evans, jazz was life's blood

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FOREST PARK — Elwood “Woody” Evans' life was everything about jazz. He expressed it on his piano in his namesake band, the Woody Evans Trio.

        He shared his love of the music in workshops with Cincinnati school children and captured the Cincinnati jazz scene in a documentary that was later used in city schools.

        And in 1977, he founded the Greater Cincinnati Council for the Performing Arts to promote jazz and pay expenses of musical artists performing free concerts at the Serpentine Wall.

        A book Mr. Evans compiled from interviews with local artists on the history of Cincinnati jazz lay unpublished when Mr. Evans died Wednesday at Mercy Hospital Fairfield of liver failure following a brief illness. He was 74.

        “Jazz was his mistress. That was his life's blood,” Mr. Evans' widow, Madlyn, said Thursday. “He never ceased learning. That was his breath of life.”

        Mrs. Evans said her husband's interest in jazz started when he was a young boy living in the West End. At the age of 12, he took up playing the piano after his father passed away.

        By age 14, he had formed his first band, “Sons of Rhythm,” but later dropped out to play with saxophonist and composer Frank Foster, who grew up in Walnut Hills.

        After being drafted to serve in Korea following his graduation from Woodward High School, Mr. Evans played in the Army band.

        Two years later, he was back in Cincinnati, attending the Conservatory of Music while playing local clubs and raising a family.

        When the likes of Count Basie and other big names invited him to join on, Mr. Evans chose to stay in Cincinnati to raise his three young children following the death of his first wife at age 32, Mrs. Evans said.

        Oscar Treadwell, a former Cincinnati disc jockey, met Mr. Evans when they presented several jazz programs to people who were shut in by disabilities.

        “His method of playing would be one of the major forces of jazz in Cincinnati,” Mr. Treadwell said. “Any young jazz musician would know Woody Evans. They were all influenced to some degree.”

        “He was not only a fine musician, he was a very fine gentleman, always willing to help somebody else. He would just open himself to you.”

        In addition to his wife, Madlyn, survivors include two sons, Michael Evans of Irvington, N.J., and John Evans of Cincinnati; a daughter, Charlotte Duett of Madisonville; a brother, Walter Evans Jr. of Forest Park; a sister, Myrtle Booker of Hyde Park, and three grandchildren.

        A private memorial service will be held Sunday at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Woodlawn.

        A public memorial is planned Aug. 8 at the Swifton Commons “Commonly Jazz Series.”

        Memorials: Greater Cincinnati Council for the Performing Arts, Jazz Heritage Endowment Fund, c/o PNC Bank, 201 E. Fifth St., Cincinnati 45202. Attn: Accounts Management Department.


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