Samirah Evans: New Orleans Style Right In Vermont's Backyard

Publish Notes: 

Cider Magazine Westminster, VT June, 2011

Samirah Evans: New Orleans Style Right In Vermont's Backyard
Samirah Evans: New Orleans Style Right In Vermont's Backyard
Samirah Evans: New Orleans Style Right In Vermont's Backyard

BRATTLEBORO, VT-Jazz vocalist and Brattleboro-resident Samirah Evens has traveled a long and interesting road to Vermont, having established herself as one of the premiere vocalists in New Orleans, a city known world-wide for its' eclectic mix of music roots.

Photos courtesy of Samirah Evans

So established in fact that from 1990, Samirah performed at the infamous New Orleans Jazz Festival for fourteen consecutive years and has shared the stage with such legends as James Brown, B. B. King and Irma Thomas.

A Bowling Green University graduate , Evens moved to New Orleans after college to pursue her music career, before finding her way to Vermont several years later. "I am originally from Cleveland, so I am no stranger to the winter months," Samirah said in a recent interview from her Brattleboro home.

"However, I spent most of my adult life after college in New Orleans, before I moved to Brattleboro in the fall of 2006. Therefore, New Orleans is home for me… and it certainly molded me into being the entertainer that I am."

How could it not? Surrounding herself with all these remarkable, New Orleans jazz musicians for nearly two decades would surely influence Samirah's music, including the talents of her musical mentor, Detriot-native and New Orleans' legend Willie Metcalf. Metcalf is well-known for his mentoring of Winton Marsalis, Terrance Blanchard, Donald Harrison and many other artists through his Academy of Black Arts program.

"Most of my musical career was spent surrounded by these wonderful New Orleans musicians which ultimately made up any of the bands that I led," Evens said. "Therefore, it was their support along with the mentoring of Willie that truly shaped my artistry."

In 2002, Samirah's debut CD titled Give Me A Moment, was co-produced by keyboard player Darrell Lavigne and drummer Ricky Sebastian (former drummer for Grammy-award winning vocalist, Dianne Reeves, was very well received in the influential jazz circles of New Orleans, ranking as one of the top CDs in the annual New Orleans Times-Picayune annual music list.

Evens would also become a fixture in the New Orleans jazz club scene, playing such venues as Snug Harbor, House of Blues, Sweet Lorraine's and the Bombay Club, alongside such New Orleans artists as trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist Charles Neville(Neville Brothers)and drummer Shannon Powell, who has worked with Harry Connick, Jr. and Diana Krall.

Also a radio personality on New Orleans Jazz and Heritage radio station WWOZ, Evens met her husband and Brattleboro-native, Chris Lenois, during a live broadcast at the French Quarter Festival. "We both were radio programmers and met while doing the festival," Samirah added. "I had been doing live broadcasts for many years and was asked if I would support Chris' first live broadcast. It was pretty much love at first sight for both of us, and we were married about a year and a half later."

But everyone faces challenges and adversity in life and Samirah and Chris faced tragedy when Hurricane Katrina caused them to leave New Orleans move to Brattleboro in the fall of 2006, which certainly was a bit of a cultural change. "Sure it was. I moved from a city that is around 60 percent black and with a lot more diversity, to a town that is about 90 percent white," Evens said.

"Though I'd visited here before and was aware of the racial disparity, it was still a bit of a shock. It helped that the street I moved to was only occupied by roughly seven houses had an interracial couple living across the street from me. That immediately helped me to feel little more at home. It was tough moving to a small town and not being able to see beyond the trees where ever I traveled. It was also hard giving up New Orleans cuisine."

But music is the universal language and once Evens found that musical bond with Artistic Director Eugene Uman and the Vermont Jazz Center, all was right. Her first performance at the Vermont Jazz Center was with the VJC Big Band and before long, Evens was sharing the stage with the legendary Shelia Jordan in the musical theatre performance Beatnik Café.

"I hooked up with Eugene Uman and we hit it off immediately, as he appreciated what I could bring musically to the community, Samirah said. "He has been a huge supporter of mine since I arrived in Brattleboro. Another of my first performances in Brattleboro was at the VJC Christmas fundraiser in which I was featured with a big band led by saxophonist Scott Mullet."

In 2009, Evens hand-picked some amazing jazz talent from a summer concert series she was performing at and formed Her Handsome Devils, featuring Michael Zsoldos on saxophone, Jason Ennis on guitar, Miro Sprague on piano, Michael O’Brien on bass and Connor Meehan on drums. "I have been able to work with such amazing people and these musicians had all played with New Orleans musicians in the past, therefore they complimented my music very well."

Recorded in New Orleans, Samirah released her second CD My Little Bodhisattva with a CD release performance at the Hooker Dunham Theater in Brattleboro. Since then, Samirah and Her Handsome Devils have been gaining momentum and quite a regional following, performing energetic arrangements of both jazz and blues standards throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Evens has continued to receive great support from the community and the Vermont Jazz Center. "Eugene has since programmed me as a feature act during one of his seasons and I also chose the VJC to record my current CD, Hot Club, because it's the most meaningful venue in this state and I wanted to promote the venue on the cover of the disc."

To coincide with the release of the new CD, Samirah Evens and Her Handsome Devils have several upcoming local performances including Walpole NH's Hastings House(for Walpole Old Home Days)on June 25 and Wilmington VT's Memorial Hall Summer Arts Festival on July 9. The Hastings House show is a concert in the memory of Lou Andreoli, a long-time teacher at Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon, NH. Evens will also perform with guitarist Zach Danziger on June 13, at Side Street Café in Florence, MA.

To learn more about the jazz and blues artistry of Samirah Evens or to order the new CD, visit her Web site at Hot Club is also available locally at Turn It Up! Records in Northampton and Brattleboro and online at CDBaby.