The Cat’s Pajamas performs at Swissters, a cheese and wine shop in Sugarcreek, Ohio. From left, Blake Hershberger, Ryan Johnson-Evers, Kyle Johnson-Evers. Photo courtesy Mickie Gonwick
By Meg Short
What do a biology major, his younger brother and a self-designed international studies major have in common? Besides the fact that they all played on the men’s soccer team at Bluffton, they all make up the jazz ensemble “The Cat’s Pajamas.”
Ryan Johnson-Evers, a senior biology major from Muskego, Wisconsin who also has minors in math, Spanish, and public health, formed the band in December of 2014 along with his brother Kyle.
“We wanted to be able to play our own music, particularly jazz,” Johnson-Evers said. “We knew it would be fun to not be confined to a larger ensemble.”
Younger brother Kyle Johnson-Evers, also of Muskego, attended Bluffton during the 2014-15 school year, but dropped out to heal the tendonitis he had developed from over-practicing.
Sophomore Blake Hershberger is planning a major that is in the process of being approved, and will be called international peace, justice, and conflict studies. He is from Canton, Ohio. Hershberger covers the percussion, while Ryan Johnson-Evers is the saxophone player and Kyle Johnson-Evers plays piano.
The group first played a free show at Cabin Fever, a coffee shop in Defiance, Ohio, during the 2014-15 winter break. After a hiatus, they came back together to play at The Mustard Seed’s “After Hours” in February 2016, and at Swissters, a wine and cheese shop in Sugarcreek, Ohio, during Bluffton’s Spring Break this year. They were paid for both performances, and each walked away with some cash, even after splitting the money three ways.
Finding time to practice as a whole group is difficult, since the younger of the Johnson-Evers brothers is not on campus. According to Ryan, they had all played most of the songs in their set list before. In most cases, they have had only one day to practice together before their gig, so preparing by themselves has been crucial.
Ryan’s favorite performance was at Swissters. While he enjoyed playing at The Mustard Seed because a lot of his friends from the university could come, the group had just played for an hour and a half at a private party beforehand and were fatigued.
The Johnson-Evers brothers, Hershberger, and several of their Bluffton friends are also part of another performing group, Dash The Band. The name is a play on Ryan’s nickname, Dash.
Dash The Band will be the performing group at Riley Creek Fest in the Sommer Center on April 16. While they have not had a formal appearance yet, they have all played together at some point, as many are a part of the Chapel worship band.
Once Ryan graduates in May, it will be harder for the group to play together, since they will all be living apart. “I would love for music to always be a part of my life,” he said.
“Ryan and Kyle are such talented musicians, and their passion for jazz has definitely rubbed off on me. I hope we’ll be able to continue bringing music to local coffee shops and restaurants,” said Hershberger,