HUMBLE BEGINNINGSA recent book by Warren Craig called The Great Songwriters of Hollywood starts with Irving Berlin, goes through Harry Warren, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, etc., and ends with Livingston and Evans, whom the book calls "the Last of the Great Songwriters of Hollywood." Like those that came before them, their respectable list of hit songs have all become standards which are still constantly being recorded and performed.
Livingston and Evans both grew up in small towns, and their main contact with the outside world was through radio. Jay Livingston was a DXer, a hobby that no one practices anymore. DXers tried to see how many radio stations they could pick up and then entered them in a log book. Jay found 235 stations before he went off to college. During his kilocyclic meanderings, he heard music from all over the country, and was especially impressed by the big bands he picked up from New York, Chicago, New Orleans and other cities.
His favorite performer was Little Jack Little, a pianist-singer from WLW, Cincinnati. Little Jack Little had a marvelous technique on the piano, which inspired Jay to work hard at the piano to try to emulate him. When he auditioned for Pittsburgh radio stations, he did an imitation of Little Jack Little, which they allowed him to perform on the air.
Ray's heroes were the big New York show writers, especially Cole Porter. He got first hand experience watching the movie musicals that came to the theatre in Salamanca, NY. He would get the advance programs from this theatre, and always made sure to catch all the musicals. This theatre is now called the Ray Evans Theatre, in honor of the local boy who made good.
Their orchestra at Penn played on cruise ships during Easter and summer vacations, and Jay credits this with giving him his broad experience with all kinds of music. When they stopped in Havana, they bought rhumba instruments from a man on the street, who taught them to play them.Their orchestra at Penn played on cruise ships during Easter and summer vacations, and Jay credits this with giving him his broad experience with all kinds of music. When they stopped in Havana, they bought rhumba instruments from a man on the street, who taught them to play them. That night, they imitated what they had heard in Havana, on the ship, with the three sax players playing claves, maracas, and gourd while the trumpet player, the drummer, and Jay at the piano improvised in Havana rhumba style.
The cruise director, who was the head cruise director of the Holland-America line, got very excited and told them to keep playing until he found a partner. As he danced by, he kept saying, "Don't stop," which surprised the band because he had enjoined them to cut their sets to a minimum, to keep him from being stuck with partners he didn't care for. It turned out that this cruise director was crazy about the rhumba, which other college bands didn't play. When they finished, he told them, "You can have any cruise you want on this line," which enabled them to cruise the world during their college years.
When the ship stopped in Buenos Aires, they heard the authentic Argentine tango, which they also imitated, and in Rio de Janeiro, they had their first exposure to the samba, which had not yet reached the United States. And in Trinidad, they heard the calypso, and both Ray and Jay learned how to write for this medium, which purposely stressed a word on the wrong syllable. During their first days in Hollywood, they were invited to a party by the famous King Sisters, which was peopled by greats in the music and motion picture world, and they decided to impress this august assemblage by writing and performing The Hollywood Calypso, about their impressions of Hollywood- "a-ba-lo-ne a-vo-ca-do," using the style they had learned in Trinidad. This was a big hit, and garnered them many friends. In fact, the King Sisters began singing "The Hollywood Calypso" in their public appearances.
At the end of their last cruise, Ray came into Jay's stateroom and, to Jay's great surprise, suggested that they stay in New York and become songwriters. And, thus, the team was born.
Raymond Bernard Evans
February 4, 1915
Salamanca, NY, USA
February 15, 2007
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Wyn Ritchie Evans
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