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The Newly Minted Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: That's a fantastic concept. Many of the musicians are concerned about keeping the younger generation interested in the jazz idiom, because that's where the audiences and the new players will come from.

DA: A propos of that, with all the recent financial cuts in our schools, the Philadelphia School System cut out their Music and Arts programs. That makes our educational mission even more urgent.

AAJ: Deena, as co-founder, what are some of your dreams for JOP?

DA: I echo everything that Terell just said. My dream is to honor the great jazz legacy of Philadelphia, which includes honoring some of the older jazz musicians from here who are still with us, which we're now planning to do. We also want to preserve the legacy by performing it and continue it through education. Also, we want to highlight the Philadelphia "sound" which is talked about so much.

Wynton's group in New York at Lincoln Center is centered around the music of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. And my original concept was to center JOP around the Philadelphia sound, which emerged during the hard bop era with central figures like Lee Morgan, John Coltrane, and many, many others. And there are some other, unsung, musicians from Philadelphia who have had a tremendous influence. So the dream is to find ways to continue and enrich the Philly jazz legacy.

We have to find ways to keep jazz alive in Philadelphia and elsewhere. There are numerous great musicians and so few venues where they can perform. So my hope is that the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia will play a "come to" function, generating energy and encouraging the musicians to come on board and the audiences to come out to hear the music. The Orchestra would be a magnet that would draw the musicians and audiences together.

TS: When you have a group of musicians and a group of supporters come together, good things always happen. That's how the big jazz festivals happen. In Pittsburgh, the festival was held around different places in the city, and we'd jam afterwards. And afterwards, you'd hear people talkin' about it and gettin' excited about next year! And they'd offer new places to do it!

DA: When you get excitement, you get a creative process going.

TS: It's about bringing everyone together. When I first came here, as I said, I was new to jazz. People like Shirley Scott, Jimmy Oliver, Mickey Roker, Arthur Harper, and Bobby Durham, just to name a few, would pull me under their wings. The way Harper put it to me was, "I really believe in you, but I need to spend some time with you." So I said, OK, but I'd like us to bring folks around us. So I booked a series in some local nursing homes, and offered them our services as a trumpet- bass duo to come in and play for the residents. So we got a bunch of gigs there, and Arthur was really happy because we could work together, and he could mentor me. I'd love to see that concept continue on in some way.

AAJ: There are several organizations around the country that serve the senior community by bringing music to various facilities.

DA: Music has many therapeutic benefits. It stimulates the brain, and helps people with Alzheimer's, for example.

AAJ: Music is about giving what's inside you to others, and it's a natural form of altruism. There are many ways that musicians can make a difference in our society. And it sounds like that's something you have in mind for JOP.

The Philadelphia "Sound"

AAJ: But let's return for a moment to what Deena referred to earlier as the Philadelphia "sound." What we know for sure is that Philly has a tradition of the greatest jazz musicians many of whom have made the jazz scene in New York and internationally. In addition, there has often been talk about a Philly jazz "sound" or "style." We might assume that the new orchestra would like to capture that sound. Do you think there is such a "sound," and if so, could you describe it?

TS: Yes, I do think there's something to it. For example, something that's basic to jazz in Philly is the element of emotion. I've travelled around, worked with many bands and musicians. I'm an educator, and I tell those I teach that there is something beyond what they can learn in a class. That something is what makes people feel emotions when they listen. I ask the students, "How do you get the audience to feel joy, or feel sadness when you play your instrument?" When I fist picked up my trumpet, my mother said to me, "If you can't make someone shout out or cry when you play, what's the purpose of doing it?"

DA: I like your mother! [Laughter.]

TS: She's a trumpet player, so she knows! So when I talk to students, I talk about soulfulness and emoting. And when you think about it, that's what makes for the Philadelphia sound. When you think about John Coltrane, no one on his instrument had brought in the emotional and spiritual aspects the way he did. And when you've heard him play a song for twenty minutes, you're so moved emotionally that you forget about time, and you need a towel to wipe yourself off. So the spiritual, soulful aspect, the energy, the musician's life is all present in the music. You can hear the hardship, you can hear the camaraderie, you can hear it all in the music.

Bill Cosby told me that Lee Morgan loved marches, and his soulfulness and articulation came from those marches. His triple tongue staccato articulations came from those marches. So Lee Morgan and John Coltrane contributed to that Philadelphia sound. So that's the Philadelphia sound—the emotions, the spirit. And it's in other genres too—the soulfulness. It's not often that I hear bands play and I get goose bumps. But there were moments in the two concerts we did with the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia, moments when I felt goose bumps and was so grateful to be working with them.

DA: And I got goosebumps when you were soloing.

TS: I could hear that energy coming from the band because it's something that's inherent in this city. Like it's in the water supply!

DA: Terell, I would add something to that and be interested to know if you would agree. I think that church music in Philadelphia has always been very important, and I think that's influenced the music, that it's a big part of the Philadelphia sound.


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