Sandy Evans: ‘I like to think of harmony in relation to colours’


To be honest, I don’t know much about Sandy Evans; neither as an artist, nor as a person. I’ve listened to some of her work, sporadically, and I find myself in awe of her playing, her versatility, her generous spirit, her pure, youthful, joyous energy. Which basically means that everything I’d like to know about her as a person, is just there, in her playing. And in her face, which seems to have only one expression; that of a mischievous grin, enhanced by sparkling eyes and untameable curls. Sandy Evans looks like a person who’s having a blast and this is something you can also hear in her playing. Which makes it perfectly appropriate for her to play alongside Zoe Hauptmann, Humpty Dumpty, Jemima, Big Ted, Little Ted and all the other stars of Playschool’s Big Jazz Adventure.“It was fantastic!”, she laughs over the phone. “Young children have an honest response to music and I’m always interested in introducing them to jazz in the most enjoyable way, it is very rewarding for all of us”. Somehow I get that this summarizes her approach to performing in general. “Definitely! I believe that music is for everybody”, she answers, emphasising on the need for inclusive musical education, and talking about this 88-year-old student of hers, who’s learning to play ‘Mercy Mercy Mercy’ on the alto, and is about to give a concert.

His teacher is also setting up for a concert; she’s about to launch her latest album, ‘rockpoolmirror’, a musical response to a series of photographs of Belinda Webster (founder of Tall Poppy Records), at Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday 17 June. “It’s an amazing project”, she says. “I love Belinda’s photos! For about 10 or 12 years, she would get up early in the morning and go to the Shoalhaven Gorge; you can only access it by rowing, so that’s what she did. She would camp there at dawn and start taking these lifelike photos”. Sandy Evans was inspired by these images of reality and reflection, so she started composing what turned out to be musical responses to them. “I like to think of harmony in relation to colours”, she says, describing her approach. “Other times it was the structure of the photos that I reacted to. There are certain mirror images, so what I did was take some melodic ideas and reverse them”. In certain situations, her music is a reflection on the mood of the photograph. “You know how sometimes you get ripples in the water? This was also something that we tried to do; in the album Bobby Singh makes waves on the tabla and in Melbourne Niko Schauble will do this on the drums”.

The album is a suite of improvisational duets with a roster of Sandy Evans and some of her friends and steady collaborators: Singh, Steve Elphick (double bass), Alon Ilsar (airsticks & drums), Satsuki Odamura (koto) and Adrian Sherriff (bass trombone), who is the only one to be part of the Melbourne launch. “It’s an opportunity for me to reunite with Niko and Paul Grabowsky”, she says. The second launch concert will be truer to the form of the album, with the saxophonist engaging in one-on-one improvisation.

In the end it is all about flexibility. This is what keeps her interested in improvised music. “I enjoy finding new ways of creating structured compositions which allow a lot of freedom”, she says, when asked what keeps her going. “As I get older, there’s more and more to learn; for the past ten years I study Indian music and a lot of ideas have opened up for me. I’m excited by the possibilities”, she adds, and her gleaming smile almost makes it through the phone line.

Sandy Evans will launch RockPoolMirror at Melbourne Recital Centre, on Saturday 17 June, and at SIMA, in Sydney, on Saturday 15 July.