Guest post by Mick Paddon
I have been waiting a long time to get my hands on the CDs of Testimony. Twelve years in fact, since I saw Sandy Evans and a feast of Sydney’s jazz musicians perform the tribute to Charlie Parker live at the city’s annual, summer festival of performance. The book, Testimony, A Tribute to Charlie Parker: With New and Selected Jazz Poems was released by Wesleyan University Press in late 2013.
File between ‘jazz’ and ‘poetry’
There used to be an early mix of four or five of the tracks, all composed by Sandy, kicking around the radio station where I have been presenting shows since a couple of years before the performance. Finding an agreed spot in the station’s CD library was a challenge for Eastside Radio’s wonderfully eclectic and anarchic bunch of presenters given that the libretto was the writing of New York poet Yusef Komunyakaa, the music composed and (mostly) arranged by Sandy, and different vocalists fronting each of the separate tracks. So the CD would disappear every couple of years until I would find it again, unexpectedly tucked away as a product of someone else’s logic of people, music, time and place. I would eagerly play a couple of the tracks on air before it vanished again. After several rounds of this cycle it didn’t reappear and after a couple more years hoping I would stumble on it again in an unlikely place, I had to accept that somebody had finally decided it needed a regular, honoured place and this could be found most safely in their own collection.
Finally, Testimony, A Tribute to Charlie Parker is published
When the music finally reappeared for me in 2013, it was in the form of the two CDs, tucked inside this wonderful book Testimony containing 28 of Yusef Komunyaa’s jazz poems, in part one, and a series of interviews, essays and other pieces written by performers (Sandy, and Paul Grabowsky), producers (Christopher Williams), and writers (Miriam Zolin and Sascha Feinstein) in the second part, which focusses on the musical piece which gives the book its name.
Are jazz and poetry ‘natural companions’?
There was a time, not so long ago, well certainly in my time, when jazz and poetry were considered natural companions. The product of an era and jazz culture captured by the late British social historian Eric Hobsbawn in his book, The Jazz Scene, originally published under the name with which he wrote his jazz essays and reviews, Francis Newton.
So I thought I would use Testimony as the framework for several weeks of presentations on Eastside Radio when I was covering one of the early music shows, Jammin’, while another presenter was taking a break. In a segment which lasted about half an hour I would play, first, a piece of music by one of the greats featured in one of Yusef’s jazz poems (Monk, Mingus, Art Pepper). I would then read the poem, and follow this with a track from the Testimony CD.
Poetry at breakfast?
For me it was a departure – a great way to combine the history of jazz with a piece of relatively contemporary Australian jazz composition and performance, and to highlight the richness of the sound and rhythm that well written poetry can provide. To be honest I am not sure what the audience made of it; one of the producers on Eastside commented that she was a bit taken aback by hearing poetry first thing in the morning. But another presenter, who is very serious about his music, asked where he could get a copy of the CDs.
Recommended reading and listening
I would recommend enjoying this book and the music this way. Remind yourself of the rich history of the music listening to one of the greats. Immerse yourself in Yusef Yomunyakaa’s poetry. This will set you up to luxuriate in one of Sandy Evans’ rich compositions played by Sydney’s best. No that’s an understatement, they are among Sydney’s, and Australia’s greatest, including some of the voices we are no longer able to enjoy live – Bernie McGann’s unique alto, and Jackie Orzaczky’s gravelly intonation.
Testimony – broadcast on ABC Jazz Up Late with Gerry Koster on Friday 5 September