Sandy Evans holding tenor saxophone | Image credit Shane Rozario

Improvisation is not merely a technique but a voyage of exploration, a dialogue with the unknown that continually nourishes my artistic spirit


Sandy Evans is an internationally acclaimed saxophonist and composer, celebrated for her profound impact on contemporary jazz and improvised music. Her career, spanning four decades, is marked by foundational roles in some of Australia’s most significant jazz ensembles. She has been a pivotal member of iconic jazz ensembles such as The catholics, Ten Part Invention, austraLYSIS, Clarion Fracture Zone, GEST8, Mara! and the Australian Art Orchestra– not to mention her award-winning trio, sextet, and the groundbreaking musical endeavours Testimony and Bridge of Dreams.  She currently leads her Trio with Brett Hirst and Toby Hall, Ahimsa: Meditations on Gandhi, and co-leads a quartet with Andrew Robson, a duo with Andrea Keller and many more projects.

In the 1980s, Evans and her ensemble Women and Children First broke new ground embarking on a groundbreaking seven-month Australian bus tour. Evans’ piece “Climb” off their debut album, seamlessly integrated free improvisation, meditation music, and Tibetan chanting – foreshadowing her later fascination with world music. This era also saw the inception of her first trio, alongside Tony Buck on drums and Hugh Fraser on bass.

Clarion Fracture Zone, L-R, Andrew Dickeson (drums), Steve Elphick (bass), Sandy Evans (saxophones & flute), Alister Spence (keyboards), Tony Gorman (reeds)

Evans then travelled to Europe and the US, performing and studying. She worked as a professional saxophonist in Scotland and the UK before returning to Australia in 1988. Sandy joined forces with saxophonist/clarinettist Tony Gorman and pianist Alister Spence to form Clarion Fracture Zone. Their ARIA-Award Winning debut album Blue Shift garnered critical acclaim, hailed as

an atmospheric and sometimes piercingly beautiful album...[this] is what jazz ought to be doing in 1990

The 1990s were a defining decade for Evans, marked by pivotal collaborations and recognitions, further cementing her reputation as a formidable saxophonist and composer. In 1993, she was recognized with the Mo Award for Female Jazz Performer of the Year. During this era, Sandy also became a key member of two esteemed jazz ensembles: Lloyd Swanton’s The Catholics in 1992, and John Pochee’s Ten Part Invention in 1994. Her compositional prowess was honoured in 1995 with the APRA Award for Jazz Composition of the Year for “What This Love Can Do”, recorded by Clarion Fracture Zone. In 1996, she received another Mo Award for Jazz Performer of the Year, marking her evolving artistic journey.

Ten Part Invention Bondi Pavilion Theatre, 1998

As the new millennium dawned, Evans stood atop the sails of Sydney’s iconic Opera House, performing Ross Edwards’ Dawn Mantras, a composition crafted for this auspicious moment. This momentous occasion was broadcast live to an estimated two billion viewers worldwide.
In 2000, she performed at the opening ceremony of the Paralympics in Sydney with the innovative world music trio Waratah. This collaboration with percussionist Tony Lewis and koto player Satsuki Odamura was born from a long-standing relationship and shared dedication to exploring the intersections of jazz and world music traditions.

Sandy Evans Trio - image © Karen Steains
Sandy Evans Trio, L-R Brett Hirst (bass), Sandy Evans (saxophones), Toby Hall (drums) | © Karen Steains

Transitioning into the new millennium, Evans returned to the classic saxophone trio format, renewing her long association with outstanding drummer Toby Hall and bassist Brendan Clarke.

The trio has sparked a new raft of material from Evans, who beyond her prowess on tenor and soprano, has long been a pre-eminent composer

ABC producer Christopher Williams conceived a significant project centered on the life and music of Charlie Parker. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa’s epic poem, Testimony, served as the libretto for Evans’ next major endeavour, honouring the jazz icon. Premiering at the Sydney Opera House in 2002, the project garnered international attention and was later immortalised in print with the publication of Sandy’s composition Testimony by Wesleyan University Press in 2013.

Australian Art Orchestra

Throughout the ’90s and into the 2000s, The Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) played an influential role in Evans’ career and creative opportunities. She recorded with AAO on several projects, including “Passion” inspired by the St Matthew Passion of J.S. Bach in 1999, “Into the Fire” which explores Carnatic tradition with Western interpretations in 2000, “Sita” a collaboration between members of the Australian Art Orchestra and 5 Balinese musicians in 2004, “Ruby’s Story” alongside Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach who wrote about their experiences as members of the Stolen Generation in 2005, and “The Chennai Sessions” in 2009. Sandy performed with the AAO’s Two Oceans ensemble in India for the HinduFest 2012.

In 2011, Sandy performed in Sydney and Melbourne with Padmashree Hariharan in the concert “Sruthi”. Sandy is a member of Ben Walsh’s Orchestra of the Underground and performed in his original score for the Bollywood classic “Fearless Nadia’ in 2012. 

Bobby Singh and Sandy Evans

By this point in her illustrious career, Sandy Evans had contributed to over 40 recordings, showcasing a remarkable versatility through cross-cultural collaborations. Her Septet’s album, “When the Sky Cries Rainbows” received the AIR Award for Best Independent Jazz CD in 2011. Her deep appreciation for Indian classical music has fuelled numerous successful collaborations and projects, reflecting that 

The potential for collaborations between jazz and Indian musical traditions is almost infinite.

In 2012, Evans achieved a milestone with the release of ‘Cosmic Waves,’ a culmination of years of collaboration and exploration with ‘Sruthi Laya,’ a South Indian group led by Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani. This project underscored Evans’ commitment to intercultural musical dialogue, further exemplified by her academic pursuits, culminating in a PhD from Macquarie University focused on Carnatic Jazz Intercultural music.

During her 2014 visit to Mumbai on a Churchill Fellowship, she undertook an exploratory creative development with Aneesh Pradhan and leading Hindustani singer Shubha Mudgal. The remarkable collaboration Bridge of Dreams, saw composers Evans, Mudgal, and Pradhan, create a major work that was premiered by Sirens Big Band led by Jessica Dunn, Shubha Mudgal, Aneesh Pradhan, Sudhir Nayak, and Bobby Singh.

Not only was the dream exquisite, it came true.

Shubha Mudgal Photo by Raghav Pasricha
Shubha Mudgal | © Raghav Pasricha
Sandy Evans, Steve Elphick and Satsuki Odamura | © Shane Rozario

Evans continues to collaborate with esteemed musicians such as koto virtuoso Satsuki Okamura, tabla player Bobby Singh, Adrian Sherriff, tar player Hamed Sadeghi, First Nations musician Brenda Gifford, drummer Chloe Kim and jazz luminaries like Andrea Keller and Lloyd Swanton.

As a prolific composer, Sandy has received numerous commissions, crafting compelling works for jazz and improvisational ensembles. Sandy has an extensive composition portfolio, including new works for; Mara! Big Band; Taikoz 20th Anniversary concert; the Monash Art Ensemble; a suite in honour of legendary Australian saxophonist the late Bernie McGann, and the CD Rockpool Mirror based on photographs by Tall Poppies’ Belinda Webster.

Her outstanding contributions to music have been recognised with the prestigious Order of Australia Medal, an Australia Council Fellowship, a Churchill Fellowship, a Bell Award for Australian Jazz Musician of The Year, a Young Australian Creative Fellowship, an APRA Award for Jazz Composition of the Year, and three ARIA Awards. In 2019 Sandy was inducted into the Graeme Bell Hall of Fame (Australian Jazz Bell Awards).

In addition to her performance and composition work, Evans is a dedicated educator who has lectured at the University of New South Wales, Macquarie University, and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. 

Sandy is an advocate for gender diversity in jazz. She inaugurated the Young Women’s Jazz Workshops that won the APRA Art Music Award for excellence in education and is the founding director of the Jann Rutherford Memorial Award, an initiative to support young female jazz musicians.

Sandy Evans has performed at some of the worlds best jazz festivals, including; Chicago Jazz festival, the North Sea Jazz Festival, WOMAD, the Brecon Festival, the Outside In festival, the Edinburgh Festival, Montreal and Vancouver Jazz festivals, the Knitting Factory (NY),, Jazz Yatra (India), the Sidmouth Folk Festival and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.

She’s shared the stage, and performed with international luminaries such as; Ingrid Jensen, Silke Eberhard, Han Bennink and Terri Lyne Carrington and Indra Lesmana.