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Artists in their own words: Evan Christopher


Evan Christopher and Joe Ashlar (Photo by: April Renae)

Who: Evan Christopher

What: Clarinetist and writer

Where: Mid-City

Artist’s chosen location for interview: On his front porch

Q: When do you feel that you most often think about parameters and boundaries?

A: For me, boundaries have to do with deciding what’s appropriate when we enter into a situation or interaction. Any interaction that we have involves editing ourselves in some way.

I was accosted by a drunk in a thrift store once, and it was clear that he had no problem saying whatever. [Laughing]. It wasn’t terribly inappropriate or anything. It’s just that he had no inhibitions, couldn’t bother with boundaries.

In regard to when we set those boundaries, I think it is every time we go into an exchange. We’re socialized with parameters in mind, so when we have cultural differences — like when it comes to personal space or privacy — those cultural differences are a reflection of a different set of accepted boundaries.

As humans, unless we’re completely drunk off our asses or a newborn infant who doesn’t know the rules of the game, I think we enter into every exchange being very aware of our boundaries. I mean, when I’m traveling I have an exchange with the person at the counter weighing my luggage; I have an exchange with TSA to decide if they want to dump my bags out; I have the person at the gate who is going to either let me take my instruments on the plane or throw them under the plane; I have the cab driver and I have to decide if I’m going to let him go his way or the way I have in mind. And that’s just in a travel day. All of those exchanges could go pear-shaped and really screw up the day if those boundaries aren’t respected in some way. Their sphere of control over us determines the parameters.

Sometimes, though, it can get in the way because there are many situations that benefit from risk taking and pushing boundaries.

Q: What have you rethought or really focused in on with music in the past year? 

This past year, my focus was on using my concerts to offer alternative ways to view and celebrate our city’s tricentennial, especially our music. On the one hand, believe it or not, people in the United States still ask if things are better since 2005, so we’re obligated to assure people that our culture is alive and well and they should experience it for themselves.
But on the other hand, it has been important that the 300-year mark reveals that our culture-makers are serving their community under precarious conditions. So, I suppose it has been a year of finding a balance between encouraging people to visit and finding ways to present New Orleans music that offers a deeper and more nuanced experience than our tourism machine is wiling or able to.
One example is choosing rhetoric that frames New Orleans music, especially our traditional music, as being a place-specific, ethnic style. I’ve used the word jazz less than ever, except to describe it as a marketing-term for a genre that evolved from value-based protocols particular to how and why music is made in New Orleans.
Another thing I’ve been doing is composing more. I think emphasizing specific elements of New Orleans style in contemporary works helps people learn about and appreciate our indigenous cultural expressions. Juxtaposing my own music with the 19th century music of Gottschalk and the early 20th century music of Jelly Roll Morton also stresses the continuity of New Orleans style.
Lastly — despite our city’s ongoing struggles with gentrification, affordable housing and a widening income gap, ambivalence toward the privatization of our schools, crime and surveillance, infrastructure that isn’t keeping up with increasingly severe environmental threats, and over-dependence on a tourism-centric service-based economy — I’ve tried to make it clear that our musical culture remains a great gift to the world and everyone should embrace us as an example of how cultural expressions can drive community dialogue, identity and resolve. 
…Yes, of course, some days it can be a tough sell. 
Q: What do you do with receipts?

A: I can’t believe you asked this question. This is terrible. [Laughing]. I keep receipts, and they never end up where they’re supposed to be. They’ll end up in piles; sometimes they’ll be in envelopes; sometimes those envelopes will be in larger envelopes; sometimes they end up in change receptacles. I don’t actually even know why I keep them.

See, it’s multiple collections of receipts. Every now and then receipts from a certain trip will go into a small envelope. Then those envelopes will go into a mailing envelope. Then those mailing envelopes will go into a box. I literally have a stack of boxes full of scraps of papers. It doesn’t necessarily have to be receipts, either. It could be travel stubs, concert programs, or – of course – tons of music. Little scraps of music in various forms that never end up where they belong.

And you know what happens, with the music ones especially? I look at them later, and I have no idea what they mean. It’s rarely manuscript paper– often, I use some kind of shorthand with sequences of numbers and arrows and whatnot, and I often have no idea what I was trying to capture. Me and my paper scraps are a total disaster.

Q: Where is an a-typical place you’ve always been interested in holding a concert but have not been able to yet?

A: I feel like I end up in all kinds of places where I say, ‘Wow, this would be a really great place to make some music.’

It happens all the time when I’m traveling or even when I’m walking around New Orleans, even a building under construction. And I’ve also been spending so much time in New York and see bandshells and gazebos in parks that don’t seem to be getting any use. There are stairwells I think would sound amazing, and it seems like every time I turn around there’s a place I want to play music in.

Geographically speaking, I would love to play almost anywhere, places on the map that I would like to play just for the challenge. In the past Somalia was an “a-typical” victory, Palestine would be another that’s high on my list.

…This is really two-fold because there are weird places with great acoustics like parking garages, and then there are the places on the map you want for bragging rights. [Laughing].

Q: How do you think humans decide on what to believe in?

A: I think they have to start with something that they can’t believe. [Laughing]. Death is a perfect example. ‘I can’t believe I’m never going to see that person again.’ Then we make up a bunch of different ways of how we will see them again, and we start to believe in that.

I think it comes from being confronted with incredulity. …I certainly do that.


On Sunday, December 9 at 2:00 PM, Evan Christopher will premiere the Faubourg Variations at the New Orleans Jazz Museum (400 Esplanade Avenue). This Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commission will also feature David Torkanowsky (piano), Brian Seeger (guitar), Roland Guerin (bass), Herlin Riley (drums) and guest trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso. Tickets for the show are $21, and you can purchase them here. For more information on the show, you can visit the event page, or check out the museum’s page. Keep up with Evan Christopher’s shows and works on his webpage



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