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Odean Pope: A Singular Voice in the Choir

By Published: March 11, 2009
AAJ: Yes, that must be an amazing story as well. How did that happen?

Odean PopeOP: It is very strange, man, because Prince came into town the week that I was doing the recording and he sat in and played some. We have about eight or nine more tunes in the can and if they release that he will definitely be on some of those cuts. But he took me to Ornette Coleman's place and introduced me to him. He has a great big loft and he told Ornette that he had to come down one night. When I told the producer, Jeff Levenson, that Ornette was going to be coming, he said to me you must be kidding because Ornette probably hasn't been down to the Blue Note in like 25 years. So he came down to the club and he really liked the music and he said, "Odean, I would really like to do the liner notes."

AAJ: Your tone and sound are incredible. How did they develop?

OP: Well, I am very fussy about sound. A couple of my professors when I was coming up said never sacrifice tone for technique. Even today, my first priority when I go in my basement in my studio is, "how can I better enhance my tone quality?" It comes from focus, consistency, hard work and discipline. I feel left out if I am not able to still practice three hours a day and I try to practice more than that if possible.

AAJ: You are involved with music education, how do you find that?

OP: I have been doing this kind of thing for about five or six years with Philadelphia's University of the Arts and Strings for Schools and I find that it is very inspiring to work with young musicians. I will give you an idea of what I have going on today. I have about 18 different percussion instruments that I utilize with the students along with me playing and some of the students playing and it turns out to be something very special. I have been having a ball working with the youngsters. Currently in my saxophone choir I have some killers like [pianist] George Burton and [drummer] Craig McIver.

There are some young great musicians coming out at this time and they in one sense are blessed to have all of this modern technology. Today with the modern technology they don't have to study as much as my generation who didn't have it. But every generation no matter how you look at it is going to have very exceptional musicians. Like Wynton and Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
, who in their generation are very gifted very exceptional horn players. Also, Walter Blanding who is the tenor player with Wynton is one of the guys who you are going to be hearing from.

Odean Pope AAJ: On your quartet CD, To The Roach, you use guitarist Matt Davis for an innovative tribute to Max Roach. Why did you decide to do that?

OP: The guitarist is my student. When he first came to the class he was very young and he wasn't reading all that well and he wasn't improvising. But, there was something that led me to believe that there was going to be something special about him. He would come every week to my workshop and he and these other young guys were so creative, so energetic and were playing their butts off. So at some point I knew I was going to have to utilize these guys. Last year, I thought that it would be appropriate to utilize him in some fashion. So I called [producer] Robert Rusch up and said I have something kind of special that I would like to do. I had never recorded with a guitarist except for with Tiny Grimes, and I would like to do something a little different. After about a week or so he called me back and he said let's do it.

AAJ: Serenity is like Odean Pope naked soloing among nature. What can you tell me about that?

OP: I have been recording for Bob Rusch at CIMP in Redwood, New York for 10 years he has like a big farm out in the country. Normally the way I record is that I have rehearsed everything before I get there and we then drive up, about a six-hour drive. We usually get there about four in the afternoon, we rest for about an hour and then his wife, Susan, prepares dinner and we eat. Then shortly after dinner we go into the studio and start recording and for the most part I would complete all of the pieces that night. I then get up around four in the morning, go outside and practice. This morning we had just finished To the Roach and the birds were out there and I usually go out and play spirituals. I was unaware but Rusch was recording and then I heard him say that this would be a wonderful concept. He was thinking of starting another label and he wanted me to do a CD of solo spirituals and that is how it came about. It was raining the night before and there were people holding umbrellas over the engineers and myself and my horn. The birds were out and it turned out very nice.

Selected Discography

Odean Pope, Plant Life (Porter, 2008)

Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, Locked & Loaded: Live at the Blue Note (Half Note, 2004)

Odean Pope Trio, Ninety-Six (Enja, 1995)

Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, The Ponderer (Soul Note, 1990)

Max Roach Quartet, In The Light (Soul Note, 1982)

Catalyst, The Funkiest Band You Never Heard (Eponymous/Perception/Unity/Tear and a Smile) (Muse-32 Jazz, 1972)

Photo Credits

Top Photo: John Abbott Photography
Bottom Photo: Ellen Rosenberg

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