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Odean Pope: Preaching With the Choir

By Published: September 4, 2007

AAJ: It's hard to picture a world where there wouldn't be much work for Max Roach.

OP: That's the period when Max started teaching at Amherst. I've been really blessed for the last couple years, I'm just doing so many different things. I'm supposed to play the National Anthem for the Philadelphia 76'ers tomorrow night. You know, Grover Washington used to do that, and then when Grover passed, they called me and I've been doing it quite a bit. I just did one a couple of months ago.

Teaching, I did a residency in Savannah, Atlanta, and I've got three residencies in Philadelphia right now. The University of the Arts in Philadelphia got a grant to do a special thing called Philadelphia Arts and Education. It's working with the school system and they give you ten days to work with young kids in the school. I just completed on last week working with the first graders, and I've got thirty more days to do between now and June. The good thing about it, I can work it into my schedule. I just have to do two forty-five minute sets a day.

Odean PopeAAJ: What do you do with first graders?

OP: Listen, man, they are so alert. Let me just tell you what I did. I got two cowbells and some wooden flutes and I start off by letting them participate, play the instruments. Once you get their confidence that feel as though they're part of it, then I gave them the history of the saxophone, explained that John Coltrane grew up right here in North Philadelphia and he's one of the greatest saxophone players that ever lived, just telling them some of the history. You should have seen some of the stuff they gave me, what they had prepared for me when I left. And the kind of discipline they had, I couldn't believe it.

They put their name down and said, "Mr. Pope, I learned about John Coltrane was one of the great saxophone players. You taught us harmony, melody, and rhythm are the most important things about music. You taught us about dynamics." I put all these things on the board, and they jotted them down someplace. Some of their spelling was not right, but the thought was there. Jazz Times from NYC came down for one of my sets last Monday, and he was there and talked to the kids also. He's doing an interview on me, so he came down last Monday. He sat in on the class and was very impressed.

AAJ: You've taught all the way up to college level. Do you prefer any one over the other?

OP: They all have their own rewards. They asked me what level I wanted to teach and I said it could be any level, because I get rewards, ideas, and concepts from all of them, and I think all of them should be a part of it. My next one after six nights at the Blue Note will be third and fourth graders. Last year a classical harpist and I, if you can envision this, classical harp and tenor, we worked together. She's a professor at the University of Westchester, and her name is Gloria Gallante, and she really is doing a good job playing jazz music. We're playing at the Mann Music Center and the whole Philadelphia Orchestra will be there plus conductor.

AAJ: And you did a thing recently with them, an Ellington tribute, where you were the soloist, right?

OP: Yes, I was a guest soloist. If you can imagine standing up among 114 musicians, that was an experience I'll keep with me the rest of my life. It was a thirty-five minute suite. Also, I had to read that really difficult music.

AAJ: How'd you meet Coltrane?

Odean Pope OP: Coltrane was living in North Philly. He was living on 33rd Street and I was living on 17th St. There used to be a little club around the corner, him and Clifford Brown used play a club called Bell and Lou's. I couldn't get into the club, I used to just stand around outside and listen to them. It was hot and they had the door open, when they took a break sometimes they'd come out.

Him and Clifford were both really nice. I explained to them that I was trying to play and they gave me all kinds of encouragement to keep doing it. Hassan came past my house one day and heard me play, so he knocked on the door and asked my name and said, why don't you practice with me at my house, and Trane was also going past. So we used to go past and just play with him. Benny Golson lived two blocks from me.

AAJ: Why is Philly such a jazz town?

OP: From my experience of Lee Morgan, Jimmy Garrison, John Coltrane, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson...John Coltrane and I used to play duets together. We also used to play with Hassan. I have Benny Golson's hand manuscript of "I Remember Clifford." All of the guys a little ahead of me, they would pass all the information back to me. Jimmy Heath used to get all of Charlie Parker's new compositions.

When Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" came out, it was very big. One of my professors, I asked him, can you get me "Joy Spring?" He sat right down in my basement and wrote it out with no piano or nothing. He had perfect pitch and he could hear round the clock. Trane gave me his gig with Jimmy Smith when he left to go with Miles. I was like seventeen. He gave me my first gig to work. They had a two week stand, and in the middle of the gig he got the call to go with Miles Davis. I was shocked that he called me, of all people. I said, "Do you think I can handle this," and he said, "I know you can."

So after I did that with Jimmy Smith I started to get a lot of good response from other musicians calling and giving me gigs. Why do so many good musicians come out of Philadelphia? Because, I think they have a love for one another, I think they come together and study together. Reggie Workman, Jimmy Merritt, Jimmy Garrison, just a whole host of musicians, we used to come together, go down to each other's basement, if I get a new tune I share it with you, if someone else got a new tune, they share it with me. It was just like a big family. That was a very special period.

Selected Discography

Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, Locked and Loaded: Live at The Blue Note (Half Note, 2006)
Odean Pope, Two Dreams (CIMP, 2004)
Odean Pope/Khan Jamal, Nothing is Wrong (CIMP, 2004)
Odean Pope, Changes & Changes (CIMP, 1999)
Odean Pope, Collective Voices (CIMP, 1996)
Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, Epitome (Soul Note, 1993)
Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, The Ponderer (Soul Note, 1990)
Max Roach, To the Max! (Blue Moon, 1990)
Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Music World (Gramavision, 1986)
Max Roach, Bright Moments (Soul Note, 1986)
Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, The Saxophone Shop (Soul Note, 1985)
Max Roach, Scott Free (Soul Note, 1984)

Photo Credit
Top Photo: Ellen Rosenberg
Bottom Photo: David Lester Hinton

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