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The Newly Minted Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia

Victor L. Schermer By

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The newly minted Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia is an exciting, ambitious project co-founded by renowned trumpeter and Temple University educator Terell Stafford and intrepid jazz supporter Deena Adler, Odean Pope's manager. The Orchestra has already made waves in the Philly jazz community through its two performances in the Courtyard of City Hall, symbolizing its close connection to the city. On January 7, 2014, a gala inaugural celebration concert will be held at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts Verizon Hall, featuring the 17-piece band with Stafford at the helm, hosted by Bill Cosby and with guest appearances by Philadelphia-bred jazz greats Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron, Randy Brecker, Odean Pope, Larry McKenna, Bootsie Barnes, Tony Williams and also Wynton Marsalis to add his support.

The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia features music performed, composed, and arranged by Philly's rich heritage of musicians, past and present. To all accounts, it is taking the city by storm. All About Jazz readers should know more about this stellar Orchestra. We interviewed Stafford and Adler to get some of the details in depth. In addition, Stafford filled us in on his own experiences as a jazz musician that led to the new venture.

The Initial Idea for the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia

AAJ: How did each of you get the first inkling of a jazz orchestra of Philadelphia? How did the concept come to each of you, and what led you to talk to one another about it?

DA: A parallel line of thinking occurred with us simultaneously. From my end, I'd been very involved with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for several years, and also am friend and manager of the great saxophonist Odean Pope, who has given me a real education about the legacy of jazz in Philadelphia. One day I was thumbing through a magazine, and I saw an ad for the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, and I had a "Eureka!" moment. I thought, "Cleveland? What about Philadelphia? Why doesn't Philadelphia have a jazz orchestra?"

I thought to myself, Philadelphia has such a rich jazz legacy. And Terell Stafford immediately came to my mind as the leader, especially since he is right here at Temple University. This would be perfect! I had already talked informally to the people at Lincoln Center about how Terell should be leading a jazz orchestra. So I passed the idea on to Gary Steuer's wife Sophie [Gary Steuer was serving as head of the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs—Eds], and she suggested I talk to Gary, and he said, "This is a good idea. Come on down and let's talk about it." So Gary and I met, and I told him that Terell should definitely be the artistic director. And then I called Terell, and he was right on board. He can best tell you the reasons for that.

TS: It's a story that has a long history behind it. To begin with, some years ago, Wynton Marsalis asked me to join Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra as a regular player, but I couldn't commit to it. I had just gotten my gig at Temple, and I wanted to devote myself to building up the jazz program there.

The "back story" here is that I'd been part of Bill Cosby's show "You Bet Your Life." The way I got that gig was when I was working in DC, and the trumpeter I performed with just happened to be the great Johnny Coles, who is from Philadelphia. So I'm standing on stage with this living legend, and I said to him, "It's a pleasure to work with you. Is there any way I can come see you when we get back to Philadelphia?" He said, "Absolutely!" So I hung out with him, and he told me Mr. Cosby was auditioning musicians for his game show and was looking for a trumpet player. Coles said, "I'd audition, but my eyesight isn't what it used to be, so why don't you do it?" So he took me to the audition, and Tim Warfield and Shirley Scott were there, and they asked me to read a part. They liked what they heard, and they hired me, and I worked on Cosby's show for about three years, right here in Philadelphia at the WHYY studios. Cosby, Johnny Coles, Tim, and Shirley were all big reasons I centered my career in Philadelphia. So that's how I began to establish jazz roots in this city.

Bill Cosby had a big influence on me. Every week, I'd come in and, and since he had a PhD in Education we'd talk about teaching, and then one day, he said, "I think you should teach." And I said, "I don't wanna teach. I just wanna play." He came back with, "If you teach, it'll make you a better player." And after that, he'd make numerous references to me teaching. And then one time he asked me, "How do you like playing on this show?" And I said, "I love it." And he said, "If you love playing on this show, why don't you consider teaching?" I took that as an ultimatum! So I started to teach at Cheney University, and then when a teaching position became open at Temple, Shirley Scott asked me to apply. And Kim Berry, at Temple's radio station WRTI-FM, also suggested it. So when Wynton asked me to be in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, while flattered, I turned him down for a regular gig because my life and career were centered at Temple and in Philadelphia.

Given that my career is now focused around Temple and Philly, here's how the idea for a Philadelphia based jazz orchestra came up for me. I do some work on the road, and at one point I played with the Columbus, Ohio, Jazz Orchestra with Byron Stripling. That was about five or six years ago, and that's when it first crossed my mind to start an orchestra in Philadelphia, but I hesitated, thinking it would take so much work and require such a large staff, so the idea slipped my mind. Then two years ago, I was at the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival, and I jammed with some of the local musicians there. And one of them happened to mention, "Tomorrow, we're playin' in the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra," and that's when I first said out loud, "Philadelphia should have a jazz orchestra!" And they agreed, "Yes, they should! If Sean Jones can do it here, you can do it in Philly!" So, I got home from Pittsburgh, was excited about the idea of a jazz orchestra, and, two days later, Deena called me with the same idea!

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