Testimony

“… a composition of immense depth, humanity and expression.”
Hilary Shrubb, The Australian, 18 January 2002

Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker in his short lifetime revolutionised jazz improvisation, changing the face of jazz forever and shaping the course of 20th century music. Pulitzer prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa’s epic poem Testimony provides the libretto for this new musical work composed by Sandy Evans paying homage to this jazz great.

This moving testimony to Parker’s genius is a milestone in Australian music theatre.

In 1995 ABC producer Christopher Williams envisioned a piece for radio with jazz as its central theme. He joined the creative forces of Evans and Komunyakaa, Professor at Princeton University and elected to The Academy of American Poets. This led to the commissioning of Testimony by the ABC with assistance from the Australia Council. The piece was successfully transformed into a stage show by The Australian Art Orchestra in 2002.

In August 1999 Testimony was broadcast on ABC’s Soundstage. Komunyakaa’s extraordinary libretto, comprising 14 sonnets for voice, took several years to complete. Sandy Evans’ score explores Charlie Parker’s influence on an eclectic range of popular music, and in particular bebop. She is inspired by Parker’s ideas and makes no attempt to recreate or copy Parker’s unique style of performance. The result is remarkably rich and evocative, encompassing a wide range of musical styles and performers.

“I remember the exhilaration I felt when I first heard a recording of Charlie Parker. The energy, virtuosity, passion, innovation, spontaneity, intelligence and sheer beauty of his playing remain to this day an artistic pinnacle that I will never come close to reaching, but for which I am constantly striving.

“In writing the music for Testimony I have been challenged and inspired not only by the life and music of Bird and his contemporaries, but also by the extraordinary way in which Yusef has told Bird’s story. The power of his words and the rhythmic and melodic structure of his text led naturally to the song forms that I have chosen for each piece.”

Reviews

Read reviews of Testimony

The book

cover of the book Testimony: The Legend of Charlie Parker. Shows saxophone player in silhouette
Testimony: the Legend of Charlier Parker

Testimony is now a book with two accompanying CDs of music. The publication, released by Wesleyan University Press in 2013 includes the full libretto by Yusef Komunyakaa, essays by Sascha Feinstein and Miriam Zolin and the full ABC recording of Testimony.

Personnel

Saxes
Bernie Mc Gann (alto)
Paul Cutlan (bass clarinet, alto)
Casey Greene (baritone, flute)
Sandy Evans (tenor, flute)
Trumpets
Warwick Alder
Bob Coassin
Trombone
James Greening
Guitar
Jeremy Sawkins
Dave Brewer
Piano and Keyboards
Chuck Yates
Alister Spence
Bass
Lloyd Swanton
Steve Elphick
Jonathan Zwartz
Drums and Percussion
Allan Turnbull
Hamish Stuart
Fabian Hevia
Simon Barker

Vocalists
Kristen Cornwell
Kate Swadling
Jackie Orszaczky
Toni Allayialis
Tanya Sparke
Pamela Knowles
Tina Harrod
Joe Lane
Michele Morgan
Lily Dior

As well as interstate guest from Queensland
Violin
John Rodgers

and International guests
Vocal
Kurt Elling
Piano
Laurence Hobgood

The Australian Art Orchestra

” one of the most memorable festival shows in Sydney for a very long time.” Keith Gallasch -Real Time

“In 2001 I was delighted when the Australian Art Orchestra, a group overflowing with brilliant soloists and original thinkers, expressed interest in performing Testimony live. I was extremely fortunate to receive the full support of Paul Grabowsky and The Australian Art Orchestra, The Sydney Opera House, The Sydney Festival and the Melbourne Festival. to create and present the live performances of Testimony.”

Testimony is directed by Nigel Jamieson with Design by Dan Potra and Andrew Savage
Lighting design by John Rayment and Musical Direction by Paul Grabowsky and Sandy Evans.
The first performances were in The Concert Hall of The Sydney Opera House in January 2002. The piece was later performed in Melbourne and Adelaide and outdoors at The Sydney Opera House.

“ingenious set design and artful integration of sound, space and image” Jessica Nicholas

Under the direction of Nigel Jamieson, it just seemed to come together like magic.
A giant, semi-transparent film screen depicting a New York tenement dropped to reveal 15 members of the Australian Art Orchestra sitting, silhouetted in a three-tier scaffold of the building’s framework. Patrick McDonald, The Advertiser, 10 July 2003

More information

Enquiries about Testimony to Ann Moir at the Australian Art Orchestra annmoir@aao.com.au

Thanks

Sandy would like to express her gratitude to the huge list of people who have made Testimony possible

Tenor and soprano saxophone, composer