Remembering Richard Evans

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In October, the Berklee community was saddened by the death of Professor Richard Evans, who taught arranging at the college for over 25 years. A master arranger and composer, as well as a skilled bassist, Evans developed a distinguished career that saw him work with many legends, including Natalie Cole, Kenny Burrell, Dinah Washington, Sun Ra, Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, Woody Herman and many others.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1932, Evans moved with his family to Chicago in 1939, where his early musical influences included jazz, blues, Polish music, country, and gospel music. At the urging of his brother, who saved up the money to buy him his first upright bass, Evans picked up the bass at the age of 16. According to Evans, “…I decided to play bass because it was a quiet instrument. People could see me play it, but they couldn’t really hear it, so they wouldn’t know I wasn’t a real musician.”

As a bassist, Evans’ first major gigs were with Eddie Harris, Sun Ra, and Lionel Hampton, and Evans led a trio that opened for Ahmad Jamal in Chicago. Evans’ first gig as an arranger came during a 1962 State Department Tour with Paul Winter. Afterwards, Jamal hired Evans to arrange his next record, and Evans was soon hired as an in-house arranger for Chess Records, and its subsidiaries, Argo and Cadet Records.

During his time at Chess, Evans shaped the sound of soul with tunes such as “Woman in the Ghetto” and “California Soul” for Marlena Shaw, Heavy Exposure for the Woody Herman Band, the Soulful Strings, and several of his own instrumental albums. Throughout his career, Evans was nominated for five Grammy Awards, winning one for his arrangement of Natalie Cole’s “Sophisticated Lady (She’s a Different Lady).”

As the Berklee community mourns the loss of one of the college’s beloved faculty members, we take a few moments to remember some of the outstanding music that Richard Evans left us.


          February 10, 2018