One of the beautiful by-products of this new era of what I often refer to as “more music less business” is that there are no longer prescribed start and end dates for an artist’s creative output. Billy Evans who has been working as a full time musician for well over the past two decades has brought to the fore his debut release Angel Of Mercy .

In many ways you could say that Billy Evans’ approach of doing years of practice and performance is the antithesis of the road so many choose today: Go to the music store, purchase some equipment, and experiment with it for about 20 minutes and upload your creation for all the world to hear and see. Ironically, Billy did not start out intending to become a professional musician.

Originally from New Jersey, Billy had made the decision to further his studies after high school at Virginia Union University with the intention of becoming an attorney. A chance meeting with Dr. Odell Hobbs the venerable founder of Virginia Union’s music department and the director of their University Choir of renown set Billy’s life on different path. Billy states: [After Dr. Hobbs heard me play] he said “You can go ahead and become an attorney, but that’s not what your passion is and that’s not what’s going to make you happy.” and it changed my life.

Another outgrowth of Billy’s time at Union was his introduction to structured music which he credits to Dr. Hobbs and Russell Wilson(Billy’s Piano Professor at Union) “I had already been playing for years, I started playing when I was ten years old in the church and it wasn’t until I got to Virginia Union that I got into Classical Music and Jazz. That’s what reshaped me. What you hear in my project is a combination of all of that.”

Billy states further “My plan was to produce a project showcasing my background that encompasses Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel and Smooth Jazz. The crossover element of the project was to try to attract a universal audience that is void of age and race discrimination.”

Audience is one thing Billy knows something about from the busy performance schedule that he has kept over the last few decades. Billy Evans has performed for such notables as; Maya Angelou, Governor Douglas Wilder, United States Congressmen Bobby Scott and John Conyers Jr., as well as actor Tim Reid, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and CEO of Capital One, Rich Fairbanks. He also had the honour of being personally asked to play at tennis legend Arthur Ashe’s funeral.

Out of all the varied musical duties Billy takes on he admits that he enjoys playing solo piano the most and when I asked about influences the list read: Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett and of course the god walking in the room Art Tatum.

One quote that struck me during our chat was when Billy stated[regarding his singing on the project] “Art like anything else, you may have an innate talent for it but you still have to work at it to get it better and that’s just not in my vocals but my playing, writing and producing as well… Unfortunately, nowadays notoriety is not based on talent.” Billy further states: “I don’t just do this[music], this is what I am.”

During our interview Billy also recounts the time where he portrayed the role of Fats Waller in Ain’t Misbehavin, a situation where he learned the score by ear. Billy then took the time afterwards to really sharpen and hone his score reading skills, a benefit that he states opens your musical perspective. This is something that he would recommend to all even those musicians who have solely relied on their ears.

Billy stated the he is a task oriented writer and producer and that Angel Of Mercy was three years in the making and a labor of love. Like the producer that Billy and I both put at the pinnacle: Quincy Jones, the project was completed with a little help from his friends, with notable contributions from The Richmond Boys Choir, The One Voice Choir and some lovely Saxophone work from Skip Gailes (who taught this author).

Angel Of Mercy the debut project from Billy Evans out now.

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.