I think I first became aware of Evelyn in the early 90s when a friend played me a recording of Rhythm Song which features her on marimba. Although my principal instrument is violin, I studied improvisation with vibraphone legend Gary Burton and marimba virtuoso Dave Samuels and had played in a band with innovative electric vibes player, Craig Peyton. So, I knew immediately that Evelyn’s musicality on mallets was uniquely transcendent and I put it on my “someday, please God” list to play with her.
The first glimmer of an opportunity to do that came a quarter of a century later when, in the course of conversation with Audio Network’s Andrew Sunnucks, he mentioned that Evelyn was a friend. He provided an introduction and, later, Abbey Road Studios plus some wonderful additional musicians. She agreed to do an album together and we were off!
The first practical problem was that I was in LA and Evelyn was in the UK – when she was home at all. I prefer to write pieces around what a player has to offer rather than trying to fit them into an immutable preconceived notion. So the first thing I asked Evelyn to do was give me a virtual tour of her studio and show me some of the exotica that tickled her fancy. She made a 40 minute video in which she demonstrated only a tiny fraction of the plethora of instruments she owns – but I built almost every piece around something I saw/heard there. She played bowed gong, Aluphone, a giant mbira, and on and on. Even the idea for a singer on Seraph came from a moment where she sang into a timpani to get it to resonate sympathetically. But the core was always going to be the marimba I had heard so many years before. (Plus, of course, me on violin.)
It’s obvious to everyone that hears her play that Evelyn is one of the greatest percussionists in the world. But the true joy was to discover what a fantastic collaborator she is. Not all great musicians work well with others – Evelyn’s focus, dedication, and “we’re all in this together” spirit makes everyone else want to be better.
Many people have asked me what it’s like to be a deaf musician. I always say, “I don’t know,” and direct them to Evelyn’s fabulous Ted Talk (EG TED Talk) on the subject. But an equal number have asked what it’s like to work with a deaf musician. The answer, in Evelyn’s case is, “pretty much the same as anybody else that’s really, really good.” She is so adept at reading lips and a host of other skills that her deafness was much more of a quirk than an issue. If her back was turned to the control room when they were speaking she needed someone to translate. Her headphone click track – a metronome to be a time reference – was different (and much louder) than anyone else’s, so she could feel the pressure on her head. But, for the most part, we just played.
I very much hope to do a reunion album with her and I am currently looking to get a commission to write a double concerto concert piece for Evelyn and a better violinist than myself!