A tribute to Marion Evans

Volume 124, No. 4April, 2024

John Pietaro

Marion Evans in 2015. Photo by Jack Firneno (previously published in Allegro)

We recently got a notice from a Veterans Administration clinic, letting us know that one of our prestigious arrangers, Marion Evans, will be honored on his 98th birthday for his service in World War II. The VA invited Local 802 to submit a statement that could be presented at the ceremony. We said yes, and that also prompted John Pietaro to take a deeper look at Mr. Evans’ life, which we had only touched on briefly once before in Allegro.

The fortitude required of the professional freelance musician in New York can border on the tumultuous. Imagine then, the lot of the independent arranger bolting from studio to stage and back after hovering over a score during an all-night writing session. Marion Evans spent the better part of his career in such activity, doing so through some of the music industry’s — and midtown Manhattan’s — busiest decades. As he prepares for his 98th birthday and an honor via the Veterans Administration, Evans’ impact on film and theatre orchestration remains flourishing.

Born on May Day 1926 in far-off Goodwater, Alabama, young Marion’s initial musical education came by way of his mother, who taught piano and harmony and sent him for violin lessons. After high school, Evans attended the University of Alabama intent on studying engineering. College was interrupted by the draft in 1941, and he spent the next few years in the Seabees construction division of the Navy. Having the opportunity to interact with any number of military bands (this was when many top jazz musicians were in uniform, performing at bases around the world), Evans strongly reconsidered his career choice. “I met these guys from New York, who had played with this band and that band, and the initial attraction after I got home was to show business,” he told Jazzletter magazine’s Gene Lees in 1998. “I had to come to New York and see all that stuff when I got out of service in I945.”

After cementing important friendships along Broadway, Evans returned to school via the GI Bill, but did so at the conservatory in Birmingham to study music composition with G. Ackley Brower. After earning a B.A., he relocated to Manhattan, briefly studying at Juilliard before being hired as an arranger by the Glenn Miller ghost band led by Tex Beneke. Quickly thereafter, he began writing orchestrations for the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Count Basie, and as the tides turned away from the big bands, he began working in the broader pop music milieu. Soon, Evans was penning arrangements for Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall program, various musicals, and the popular songs of the late 1940s to 1950s.

In this era in which the singers who’d been small features within swing music took over center stage, Evans was called on to create the orchestral sounds swirling about Judy Garland, Dick Haymes, Vaughan Monroe, Julius LaRosa, Sammy Davis Jr., Helen O’Connell, Howard Keel, Steve Laurence and Eydie Gorme, Percy Faith and many more. But the record business was moving quickly, tastes were shifting, and the vastly commercial work was far from glorious. About the work, Evans said: “I’ve written well in excess of a hundred albums, however, I refuse to admit to any association with the vast majority of them. If there is a deaf singer, dead or alive, I’ve worked with them. How about six albums for Kate Smith? Wow!”

As the years went on, he also arranged for Carole King and Burt Bacharach, as well as Urbie Green, Doc Severinsen, Johnny Nash, Diahann Carroll, Jack Lemmon and many more, and wrote scores for every medium. He worked on the shows of Steve Allen, Red Buttons, Perry Como, Johnny Carson, Arthur Godfrey, Jackie Gleason, Jack Parr, Ed Sullivan, and more. And of course, there were some inevitable hits, including “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” (for Eydie Gormé) and “Go Away, Little Girl” (for Steve Lawrence).

Gene Lees’ 1998 JazzLetter interview of Evans includes memories of the pre-Beatles 1960s and the musicians’ lives and interactions in the area near where Local 802 now stands. Precious stuff, this. Evans lived for some time in an eight-room flat on 49th and 6th, acquired through arranger Don Costa. It was near a beloved musicians’ bar on 48th, Jim & Andy’s. Lees wrote, “Marion set up his bachelor abode there in 1957, and the place became legendary because of all the arrangers who studied there with him, among them J.J. Johnson, Jimmy Jones, Torrie Zito and Patrick Williams.”

Evans’ quotes in the article are as historic as hysterical:

“Don Costa and Jerry Bruno had that apartment. Jerry was the bass player with Vaughan Monroe  —  Vomit Roe, we used to say. He and Bucky Pizzarelli and Don Costa were all on Vaughan Monroe’s band. I took it over because I was doing a summer television show with Helen O’Connell at NBC, which was right up the street at Sixth Avenue. She was on Dave Garroway in the morning and three days a week we did the TV show. It was a great place because I could play the piano all night and the hi-fi as loud as I wanted to, and stay up until the sun came up. And besides that, it wasn’t far from Jim and Andy’s, so I could go and eat. It had lots of room and everybody could fall over and rehearse. And of course you know what happens at three or four o’clock in the morning: the bars close. The doorbell would ring, and here comes whoever, hadn’t had the last drink yet.”

This period in midtown when there was so much activity in theatres, studios, hotels, clubs, cabarets and the like, gave rise to bars that catered to other arts disciplines. Jim & Andy’s lorded over the others area musicians’ taverns. Gene Lees offered this priceless memory:

“I used to delight in Marion’s company in Jim & Andy’s. I remember one occasion when, as we were having lunch, a strange woman  —  and a stranger to Jim and Andy’s; you could always spot the strangers, they just looked as if they didn’t belong there  —  wearing a large floppy sun hat and a white dress with huge black polka dots, came over to our table. She said, “Are you fellows musicians?”

“Marion looked up at her and said, ‘Well you might say that.’ She showed us a piece of sheet music. She pointed to a note in the second space up in the bass clef, and said, ‘What’s this note?’

“Marion said, ‘Do you know All Cows Eat Grass?’ She said, ‘Yes, but what’s this note?’

“Without a flicker of expression, Marion repeated: ‘All Cows Eat Grass.’ ‘I know that,’ she said, ‘but what’s this note?’ I said, ‘It’s a cow,’ and Marion almost strangled on his drink.

“We finally told her it was a C and she left. As she walked back to her booth, Marion crossed his arms at the wrists, flapped his hands like the wings of a bird, and whistled a rising tremolo. I put my face on my forearms on the table and laughed till I wept.”

Even more fascinating are the accounts of gatherings in Evans’ apartment, including the all-night party he threw for Bob Farnon to which every arranger and many other musicians were invited. He said,“Quincy Jones said that if you’d fired a bomb in that apartment that night, there wouldn’t have been another note of music written in New York for at least five years.”

In this period, Evans orchestrated noted Broadway shows including “Paint Your Wagon,” “Almost Crazy,” “The Boy Friend” (featuring Julie Andrews), “House of Flowers” (Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll), “Mister Wonderful” (Sammy Davis Jr.) and “What Makes Sammy Run” (Steve Lawrence). He was also busy with film and TV scoring, but his work with vocalists stands out in particular: “I think I went through about twenty years of being totally impervious to my surroundings. I was busy all the time. I never thought about the entertainment business. It was just notes by the pound, busy busy busy all the time.” He noted that the arrangements for Tony Bennett were among the highlights.

Evans also explained how he developed a partnership with Don Costa: “Over a period of time, we had to write so many things. I’d help him when he’d get hung up and he’d help me, and next thing you know we were working together. We had an office at 1595 Broadway, a block up from the Brill Building. It later became sort of a rock-and-roll building. We would do record dates, whatever it was. Sometimes I’d start at the beginning and write halfway, and he’d write the end, or the other way around.” Among his credits, Evans served as conductor of The Tonight Show orchestra (prior to its move to L.A.) and composed its closing theme as well as the brief musical interludes used for years.

Then, in the early 70’s, Evans made the shocking decision in the early ‘70s to leave the business altogether: “Well, you look around, and there was one band in town, the Tonight show, and they were about to go to Hollywood. What was gonna replace it? Nothing. And I always thought the stupidest thing you can do in the world was to go to a rock-and-roll session with a toupee…I always thought that if it got to the point where I didn’t like the business, I should get out.”

Having been deeply involved in the stock market for decades, Evans began work in high finance in the 1970s, remaining active in the field through the ‘80s. He also married at the age of 63 and left Manhattan for Purchase, New York. His wife, Terri Rinaldi Evans, had a busy music career of her own. A former beauty queen and vocalist who’d performed with Nelson Riddle among others, she recorded a string of country music hits, held a long college teaching career, and owned a Los Angeles recording studio. The music had brought them together and still serves to make their relationship special.


When seemingly nothing could have lured Marion Evans back into the business, he took a call from Tony Bennett asking him to arrange his “Duets II” album. It paired the veteran vocalist, then at 85 years of age, with a stirring selection of artists including Aretha Franklin, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, Queen Latifah, k.d. lang, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Nora Jones and others. Success was immediate and Evans’ brief return naturally expanded. He worked on the two albums which followed, both arranging and composing some music for Bennett and Lady Gaga’s “Cheek to Cheek” and “Love for Sale.” All three were Grammy-nominated. For most musicians, this would be a fitting close to a monumental career, but with the likes of Evans, who knows? He’s only 98.

More on Marion Evans is available on his page.

Local 802 Organizing Director John Pietaro is a published writer and poet.