There are people (like me) whose voices suggest someone far younger than they are while others (like the late Allan Evans) look far younger than they sound. My friend the pianist-composer Jed Distler has just informed me that Allan, one of the most significant historical audio restoration pioneers, died yesterday in New York. I’m gutted. Allan was a diamond, always concerned for others, good fun and most important as far as posterity is concerned, a brilliant teacher, scholar and an historian whose non-profits arts organisation Arbiter, which he founded in 1996, published more than 150 recordings by historic interpreters, some of them obscure to the point of previous invisibility – but always worth hearing.
I will never forget the first time we met. It was at the (London) Swiss Cottage home of Michal Hambourg (1919-2004), daughter of pianist Mark Hambourg (1879-1960) and the violinist Dorothea Muir Mackenzie (1881-?). I’d previously only conversed with Allan over the phone. He sounded like a wise elderly gent and when he answered the door, I just couldn’t square the young-looking guy in front of me (Allan was merely in his early sixties when he died) with that deep, gravelly voice. We had a ball, Michal cooking the freshest vegan meal you could imagine while reminiscing about her Dad – ‘old school’ isn’t the word, Mark’s playing as recorded was positively Shakespearean – and how they recorded Liszt together for HMV. Thereafter Allan and I kept in touch. His book on – and passionate advocacy of – the Polish-Jewish pianist Ignacy Friedman (1882-1948) illuminated the art of a player whose every recording shines like a beacon in the firmament. Largely because of Allan, Friedman’s legacy has appeared on, for example, Danacord (who had first reissued it, on vinyl), Naxos and Pearl, with individual albums on APR, Marston and Allan’s own Arbiter label. Allan’s superb book ‘Ignace Friedman: Romantic Master Pianist’ is published by Indiana Press.
But writing on Friedman and the Liszt-pupil Moriz Rosenthal, as well numerous cd booklet notes, was far from being Allan’s sole talent. His biography will tell you that he was ‘dragged into music when first hearing the music of Gospel singer/banjo-and-guitar player Rev. Gary Davis and became his last pupil’. His recording excavations delivered to our door, in addition to copious first-releases of recordings of the great Polish-American pianist Mieczysław Horszowski, the likes of pianists Alfred Hoehn (in Brahms), Iren Marik, Madeleine de Valmalète and the ‘lost legend of Cairo’ Ignace Tiegerman – a Friedman pupil, ‘the greatest talent papà ever worked with’ was Friedman’s own assessment according to his daughter Mme Lydia Walder. You can check out the amazingly wide-ranging Arbiter legacy for yourself on https://arbiterrecords.org/ Allan Evans was a true musician, the sort of listener who because of his passion for what he heard made you want to listen all the more carefully. He is survived by his wife Beatrice and his son Stefan. God rest him.
10 thoughts on “A diamond in the sky: historic recordings guru Allan Evans dies in New York”
Oh, goodness. Tragic news. I knew he was stricken by some illness or other; this is just terrible news. I have nearly the entire Arbiter catalog on CD, including all the world music titles. It has repaid much enjoyment. Thank you for a beautiful tribute.
-Eddie W. San Dimas, Calif.
Sent from my iPhone
Thank you so much Eddie and yes the Arbiter catalogue is quite something. I too have most of the discs scattered around the place.. There are some people who have what it takes to communicate what matters most and Allan had that gift. Thanks so much for your response and do keep safe. Rob
I was a friend from adolescence. Imagine a 13 year old in 1969, taken with free jazz (Albert Ayler, Coltrane, Sun Ra, etc) , Country blues (Bukka White, Son House, Charly Patton and of course the Rev Gary Davis from whom he took guitar lessons), modern classical, Indian music, avant garde Rock.. unbelievable. A prodigy of critical appreciation. What an education to be in his company! What a loss to the wor!
Thanks Eric. ‘A prodigy of critical appreciation’ indeed. We stood to benefit through his work,
As I’ve said elsewhere, a real Mensch and a man of wide sympathies, both humane and musical.
Can’t argue with that Tully. Thank you!
I met Allan in January 1978, when he was a composition student at Mannes College. I was just out of university, looking for a place to live in New York City back in 1979. Allan invited me to be his flat mate, and we shared his apartment in Queens for about a year. He still was composing, then, and I actually gave the premier of one of his quirky solo piano pieces. He taught me how to cook, he corrupted me with my first hearings of countless historic classical recordings, and we also played a lot of four hands; our specialty was Satie’s Parade, with which we would alienate guests at parties by our eccentric tempos. It also helped that Allan was an apprentice piano rebuilder in his early career, and he was my regular tuner and technician in the early 1980s.
Allan had serious health problems over the past decade, and he had undergone a complete stem cell transplant a few years back. Yet he tended to play them down, at least with me. So I was shocked, but not surprised at his passing. We had last spoke on April 4th, his birthday, and it was obvious that his tenuous lung issues were ever present. Over the past few years when we’d meet, he always carried an oxygen tank with him. But his positivity, curiosity and passion for his work never abated. I was lucky to have this generous, brilliant and utterly original friend in my life for more than 40 years, and music lovers all over the world owe him more than a mere debt of gratitude.
Thank you for that beautiful and informative tribute Jed.
I just learned of Allan’s death tonight. He hasn’t responded to an email I sent a few weeks ago. And he email had not been returned as undeliverable. But it just occurred to me that Covid could have complicated his already complex illness. I then found another blog that mentioned his passing.
I was a student in Allan’s “Mysteries of the Blues” class at Mannes a few years ago. As one whose religion was playing, living and breathing folk music when I was in high school in the 50’s, I found Allan’s knowledge of and deep feel for the iconic blues players like Rev. Gary David compelling and enthralling . We got together a few times, most recently about a year ago. He was clear about dealing with his illness, but played it down in the low registers.
I will miss him greatly. Thank you for memorializing him here. And for providing a space for others to do the same.
Thanks so much Frederick. Being so involved with historic recordings I think of Allan often. Best. Rob