Since growing up in Clarendon Hills, Grammy-nominated jazz saxophonist, composer and bandleader Bill Evans has played the world perpetually with artists including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Mick Jagger — and with his own jazz/funk/bluegrass band Soulgrass.
Oddly, though, he hasn’t performed anywhere near Chicago with his own group for many years. A situation that will be remedied when he performs with Soulgrass Aug. 31 at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston.
We caught up with Evans on the road for a quick conversation about crossing musical barriers and speaking his own personal language with the saxophone.
Q: Is it true that you haven’t played the Chicago area for years? How did that happen?
EVANS: I’ve only played there with my own band once before in the last 30 years and I’m not sure how that happened. It’s crazy. (Laughs) I’ve played every other major city in Europe 20 or 30 times and I haven’t played my hometown. So I’m really hoping people will come out and see what I’ve been up to.
Q: You play a lot of different types of music — jazz, funk, rock, bluegrass. Who were you influenced by in the early days?
A: I just like all kinds of music. When I was in my early years, I focused on jazz, because you have to concentrate on it in order to get it to a certain level. I concentrated on it really hard beginning when I was around 11, but toward the end of college I started listening to all kinds of music. And I was inspired by it.
In jazz improvisation, which is what I do, I respond to what I’m playing with. So, for me, playing with the Allman Brothers or Warren Haynes or Umphrey’s McGee or John McLaughlin, is just an opportunity to say something new. I’m just speaking my own language on my instrument. So I’m just saying different things when I’m playing with different people. And that’s a lot of fun. I need to be stimulated by different sounds.
Q: Is that why you explore so many genres with Soulgrass?
A: Right. Soulgrass incorporates all kinds of music and that makes it exciting to be a part of and to listen to. We cross a lot of barriers, but we don’t alienate the audience, we bring them in. People leave those shows smiling and liking what we do. And we do it in 40 countries a year.
Q: The most recent Soulgrass CD was two years ago. Are you still touring behind “Dragonfly”?
A: Yes, but we have so many new tunes and we’re also playing those. You know, the problem is finding a place to record and the time to record. We’re putting out a “Live in Moscow” CD in October and we’re also half-done with a new studio CD.
Q: “Dragonfly” was described by some reviewers as a rocking, hard driving record and your recent videos display that kind of energy. Is that the way your shows are going these days?
A: It’s different every night. People who come to a couple of different shows on the same tour will say we heard you last week and that was really rocking, but tonight, you guys played some older tunes that were in sort of a blues bag. And then the next show will be different again. It’s just a matter of how we feel at any given show. But it’s always fun. We want to knock everybody off their feet. We want everyone to leave the show saying, ‘Man, that was ridiculous.’
Bill Evans and Soulgrass
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 31
Where: S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston
Price: $17-$30Website: www.Evanstonspace.com
Phone: (847) 492-8860