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The Newly Minted Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: Mahalia Jackson lived in Philadelphia. Philly jazz has deep roots in gospel music.

DA: Yes, and that soulfulness is also in R&B, a lot of which has come out of Philadelphia. And also, I think our music here has a lot of grittiness. Maybe that's one reason it grabs you in the gut.

TS: What has made jazz in general distinctive is the church. When you hear a lot of the musicians, you hear their church experience coming out of their horns or voices. When I was younger and played in church, if you didn't move people, they'd let you know. They'd say, "Baby, if the Holy Spirit is not in what you're playing, you need to search your soul for it." It's true!

DA: That's what your mother was saying to you as well.

AAJ: Charlie Parker said, "If you haven't been through it, it won't come out of your horn." You're on to something important— that the Philly sound is characterized by a soulful and gutsy quality. Philadelphia musicians brought an element of passion into jazz.

TS: If you want to hear further pontification about it, Jimmy and Tootie Heath are coming down in November to play in the Temple groups. I'd love to talk to Jimmy Heath about his contribution to Philly jazz. By the way, as an aside, Jimmy takes credit for Bill Cosby's comedy! Cosby was once a bartender, and Jimmy would come in and say, "Have you heard this joke?" And he'd tell Cosby tons of jokes. And then Cosby would use all those jokes with the customers at the other end of the bar! [Laughter.] But, more seriously I'd love to hear Jimmy talk about how the different musicians and ideas connected, like how Benny Golson and he inspired each other.

AAJ: When they were coming up, in the 1940s-1960s, music and jazz were neighborhood things in Philadelphia. Jimmy talks about it in his biography. Like how they'd all get together at his house and play together. And his mother would prepare lunch. That happened a lot in the South, West, and North Philly neighborhoods. Everybody thought of the musicians as family. Lifetime bonds developed among the musicians.

DA: I was driving in North Philly with Odean Pope one day, and he pointed to different houses and told me which musicians lived there!

AAJ: That legacy of jazz in neighborhoods and families is crucial. Many of the bands became like families. For example, the Count Basie Orchestra band members often felt that way. In fact Basie himself was known for encouraging that closeness among the musicians, like a father figure.

Terell Stafford's Philly Jazz "Family"

AAJ: So, Terell, you've been around Philly for a long time, but you're originally from Maryland? Is that right?

TS: Actually, I'm originally from Miami. We moved around a lot. I went to elementary school in Miami, middle school in Chicago, high school in Maryland. And after I graduated from high school, my parents moved right outside of Philadelphia. But I went to the University of Maryland as an undergraduate, and then I moved back to the Philadelphia area. I was mainly studying classical music at the time. Then I met Wynton Marsalis and started graduate school at Rutgers, where I began to meet jazz musicians. So when I started hanging out in Philadelphia, I thought, "I wanna play jazz."

AAJ: So your jazz playing started right here in Philly.

TS: The way it started goes back to a jam session in DC that I hated! As sometimes unfortunately happens in this business, the other guys would make fun of me constantly! It was at a place called Tacoma Station in DC. The musicians were extremely cruel to me! But one night a guy in immaculate attire came up with his saxophone to jam with us. I wondered "Who's this?" and it turned out to be Tim Warfield from Philly. He was so nice, so friendly, and I went up to him and introduced myself. He said, "Look. I know you're studying classical trumpet, but on weekends, let's hang out. So we hung out in Harrisburg, in York, in Philly, in the clubs, we'd listen to people play, we'd go back to his house and we'd transcribe records together. He recommended guys to listen to the organ, check out Freddie Hubbard, and so on. And then Tim played with Shirley Scott, and that's how I met her. Tim invited me to one of their gigs. I was sitting in the back of the club, and Tim whispered to Shirley, "You should ask that trumpet player to sit in." I said, "No, no!" And Shirley announced, "Is there a trumpet player Terell Stafford back there?" And I said, "No, thank you ma'am, thanks for offering." But she insisted, and that's how it all began for me.

AAJ: That's a wonderful story. I do know that you and Tim are like brothers today.

TS: Yes.

AAJ: And I believe he's going to participate in the new Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia.

TS: Yes.

The Personnel Roster

AAJ: Let's talk about the Orchestra's personnel. People around town are speculating about it a lot. There are so many good musicians of all generations in and around Philly. What are your thoughts about the personnel?

TS: When Deena proposed the idea, the first person I called was Wynton Marsalis. I asked, "Do you have a minute?" He said, "I have an hour." And we talked my whole way home during my commute. So I told him about the Orchestra, and he said, "Just make me one promise: Choose only the best musicians. Just choose great musicians: there are a bunch of them in Philly." So I thought about that long and hard, and that's our personnel. If I were to show you the personnel list, there are probably ten trumpet players, sixteen saxophonists, twelve trombonists, and the rhythm section goes on forever. So what I did was to put all the great musicians on a big wish list. And from that wish list, I put the basic band together the way Wynton did it at Lincoln Center, based not only on how they play but how the personalities come together. Also, we're varying the personnel somewhat from gig to gig depending on availability and so on. Ultimately, I hope to use as many of the best Philly-based musicians as possible.

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