Odean Pope: Preaching With the Choir
“ Trane gave me his gig with Jimmy Smith when he left to go with Miles. I was shocked that he called me, I said, 'Do you think I can handle this,' and he said, 'I know you can.' ”
After more than forty years of being a highly regarded musician's musician, saxophonist Odean Pope threatens to break out into mass consciousness with the release of his sizzling tour de force session with his Saxophone Choir, appropriately titled Locked and Loaded: Live at The Blue Note (Half Note, 2006). While he also works in trio and quartet settings, his signature Saxophone Choir fulfills his early desire to translate the power and majesty of a gospel choir to his beloved reeds. Featured on the live recording are soloists who grew up inspired by Pope's musical vision, including Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, and James Carter. And why not? Pope gives grateful acknowledgment to the great musicians who came before him, all links in the unbroken lineages that flow like rivers through jazz.
All About Jazz: How's your busy schedule?
Odean Pope: It's good to be busy, I think. I welcome that. Ever since I did the recording seems like all kinds of things have been taking place, and I'm just grateful. I'm glad to be in this position right now, a lot good things have happened since I did the recording. This upcoming week, Tyrone Brown, George Burton and myself fly out to San Francisco. We're going to do another recording session, Donald Bailey and I are going to be the two leaders. Donald used to play drums with Jimmy Smith. It's going to be a good date, I think. It's going to be a three day live recording session and we're going to pull Freddie Hubbard in to do a few things with us. So, I'm really looking forward to that.
AAJ: Will you be hooking up with Prince Lasha while you're in the Bay Area?
OP: I just talked to Prince today. Yes, of course, we'll probably be together every day. Every time I'm in San Francisco, we definitely be together in Oakland, or wherever, I always hook up with him. I met him in 1979. I'll tell you what happened: Charles Borne, used to work with Philly Joe Jones at the time, he went to San Francisco and we'd recorded about six cuts of my first Saxophone Choir, and he took a tape out there. Prince heard it, and about six month later I went out there with Max Roach and I met him, and we've been pals ever since.
To me, he's a very special person. He would give you the shirt off his back. I mean, every time I go out to California I have to stay with him, he picks me up at the airport, he's just very special. Takes me out to nice restaurants. He's got what he calls a DeLear, it's a two seater and he always picks me up in that. It's like an $80,000-$100,000 car. We just cool out. There's a nice place in Oakland he takes me, right on the water. Seafood restaurant. To show you how much prestige he has and how much people love him there, we go to a Chinese restaurant and when he tells them, this is my personal friend from back east, they fix up a very special meal for us. He's got the magic, where he can just talk to people and the people love him. In addition to being a great musician, he's a very nice person.
AAJ: How did you get Freddie Hubbard on the new session?
OP: Freddie and I go way back. When I met Freddie, Max Roach and his group were going to India. He was on the same flight. We flew from New York to London and from London to India, and we had a long talk and he's very special. There's a place we used to work in LA from '79 to '85, and he used to come through and hang out. Speaking of Prince Lasha, I think the last time I saw Freddie was in Paris.
Prince Lasha and I were in Paris for about a week to hang out and we went to the Selmer factory to pick out some instruments. They gave me five instruments and they gave Prince five. It just happened Freddie was in Paris that week playing the New Morning. We went past the club that night and after the performance, Freddie insisted we go past his penthouse. We had to pull away from him, he didn't want us to leave. He had an early flight that morning. Freddie's another one, he's always treated me like I was his brother. When we got this date, I called him up and asked him if he would consider, and he said he'd be delighted.
AAJ: The Saxophone Choir has been around in one form or another since 1977?
OP: That's about right. I've never stopped. We didn't get a lot of work, but I always rehearse with it and kept it going.
AAJ: And you write all the arrangements?
OP: All except for one or two, they're my original arrangements.
AAJ: What did the band say when you handed them the "Prince Lasha" charts? That's an intense piece.
OP: I've got a lot of real difficult complex pieces. When we did this recording, even before we did the recording, I used to rehearse at least once or twice a week just with the horns, not the rhythm section. Because when you rehearse with the rhythm section, sometimes the horn players be sitting up there not really playing the music. But when you take the rhythm section and the piano away, and the drums away, you got all of the sheets off everybody. Everybody's right out front, you can hear what's going on. I've been doing that for many years.
When I got the deal to do the recording with Half Note/Blue Note, I rehearsed for about ten weeks. The first six weeks was nothing but the horn players. I got the best horn players available, some of them had been with the Choir for a long time, and I got some of my students who had been with the Choir about six years. A couple of my students I started teaching in 1997 and they made such tremendous progress, so Elliot Levin, Terrence Brown, Terry Lawson, also Seth Meicht, four students. We rehearsed for six weeks straight before I brought the rhythm section in, and I must say they really got those parts together.