Evans was the son of a Methodist minister. He learned piano and drums as a child, and played saxophone in high school. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in English, and played with the Carleton Collegians dance band there. He gave up saxophone in the late 1920s for cornet, and played Dixieland jazz regularly in Minneapolis at that time.
Evans continued to play through the Great Depression, turning down offers to play outside of the Midwest. In 1947 he recorded for Disc Records, and led the band that played for the opening of Chicago's Jazz, Ltd. club upon being persuaded by clarinetist Bill Reinhardt. He stayed in Chicago until 1952, and then embarked on nationwide tours, recording frequently along the way (particularly for Audiophile Records).
He returned to Minneapolis and continued playing jazz up until his last recordings in 1975. He also founded the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra and conducted it until his death.
In 1999, a yearly Doc Evans Jazz Festival was founded in Minnesota.