In 1979 Broadway history was made. Sweeney Todd, that diabolical demon barber of London’s Fleet Street, emerged onto the stage in Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece of musical theatre. The moods and melodies are exquisite. The drama is timeless. There is great beauty and great darkness.
Composer Terry Vosbein witnessed the magic that summer and was moved to tears. Now, over thirty years later, he has blended Sondheim's dramatic compositions with his own quirky big band style.
Excerpt from Concert Program
August of 1979 found me with my good friend Tom Lundberg in Manhattan. Two young pups, fearless and set loose in the city. We feasted on great jazz, seeing Roy Eldridge, Dexter Gordon, Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, the Heath Brothers and many others at jazz clubs around town. We walked miles, ate well and rarely slept. And we saw a new musical by the already legendary Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd.
The box office was sold out, but we managed to secure matinee tickets from a man on the street. And that afternoon in August two young men from Atlanta had their minds blown by this incredible work of art. Our seats were not together, but as we descended to the lobby at intermission, on separate escalators, our eyes met. Without a word, and in an instant, we agreed. We were witnessing a masterpiece. And not just in the realm of musical theatre, but in a more complete sense.
In 2009 I had the chance to collaborate with the fabulous Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. In addition to many original compositions, I created a setting of "Johanna," the emotional ballad from act one of Sweeney Todd. From that one song came the idea to work with more of this great music. So I set about working my way through the Sondheim score, imagining how I might transform this work of musical theatre genius into a cohesive set of big band numbers.
My approach was to maintain the tone of the original score, although I did not always stay true to the mood of each song. The dramatic balance of dark and light is integral to the show. And I tried to capture that drama. Some selections retain much from the original, while others, such as "Pretty Women," are transformed completely.
The orchestra, comprised of five saxophones, five trumpets, five trombones and a five-piece rhythm section, is that of the Stan Kenton Progressive Jazz Orchestra. It is my favorite collection of instruments for which to write. The range of emotions and rhythmic excitement available are virtually limitless, from the softest pianissimo to the dramatic fortissimo climaxes.
Having Tom with me when I first saw Sweeney Todd, it is only fitting that his trombone be prominently featured on this new project. He and his colleagues in the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra are some of the finest musicians to be found. I am privileged to have them making my music come alive.
Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.