Hollywood blockbusters, hip indie films, prime-time TV network or daytime dramas: Joel Evans is the go-to guy for music that rings with romantic realism. The hit film Wedding Crashers ranks among his highest profile music usages, but with over 400 television episodes and 95 big screen credits there’s no shortage of exposure for the burgeoning ‘Joel Evans and Friends’ music catalog that spotlights swing, jazz and big band.
“My dad used to play piano by ear,“ the Northern California-based composer and musician recalls. “My folks came from the Midwest where my dad played with friends and small bands. My mom insisted we have a piano in the house and that I practice even though I longed to go out and play baseball.” He recalls that hearing Debussy in high school provided an early epiphany. “I couldn’t believe the orchestration - it was as if dreams had been turned into sound.” Mentored by a former San Francisco radio pianist who encouraged his ear training, when Evans repaired an old FM radio the airwaves delivered another revelation: the improvisations of Erroll Garner.
Taking up flute, Evans enrolled in studies at Cal State University East Bay. After graduating cum laude, he performed with a series of groups, but quickly realized the fortunes of a jazz flautist were capricious at best. “We did one gig where our earnings didn't even pay off our bar tab,” he notes wryly. A stint on piano backing Bobby Freeman (“Do You Wanna Dance”) took Evans to Tahoe and Reno, where watching the rock godfather reiterate the same patter night after night inspired him to improvise.
Possibly his best Film & TV training was performing regularly in upscale hotels. Life imitates Art; in the film Rumor Has It, Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston share an intimate conversation as the Joel Evans Combo paints the aural backdrop. The scene was shot in the same San Francisco hotel bar where Evans once had a steady gig.
Unlike many instrumental composers, Evans also co-writes complete songs. “Until it Happens to You” from Mini’s First Time provided an improbable soundtrack to a fight scene with stars Jeff Goldblum and Alec Baldwin “trying to kill one another, with my Sinatra-style swing thing in the background,” laughs Evans. He notes that one of his most unexpected inclusions was in the gritty rock and roll noir film, Sugartown, where his sweet song, “Moody” played behind, as he delicately phrases it, “The depiction of an act of love. But it fit the scene.”
A self-professed team player, Evans enlists first call musicians who can deliver the requisite tones; veterans like Bernadette Peters’ favorite bassist, Mario Suraci and drummer David Rokeach who toured with the Ray Charles band; seasoned authorities who helped define the genres his compositions reference. Co-writers like Nashville-based Lisa Aschmann and pop/theatrical writer Adryan Russ add to the sterling credibility of the songs.
Evans confides that the key to his success has simply come by exploring the sounds and styles he most identifies with: the wealth of classic American music. “I do excavate that mine; it’s like a vein of gold.”
Bio by Dan Kimpel