The Newly Minted Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: Is there a precedent for that among the big bands, in terms of selecting for a given gig from a larger roster?

TS: Yes. The lifeline of a big band starts with the middle of the band. The usual number of players is seventeen. The lifeline is the lead alto, the lead trumpet, and the drummer. And based on their concepts, you put the rest of the band together.

AAJ: So you're gonna have a central core, and then you're gonna bring in others for specific gigs and purposes.

TS: Right, although, like most big bands, we'll probably have a larger core of "regulars" who play most often with us.

AAJ: That rings true to my knowledge of the big bands. There are "regulars" but guys frequently sub for them. So—have you selected any of the personnel yet?

TS: Yes, we have.

DA: The orchestra has performed twice already, so in many respects it's already formed and up and running.

TS: For the saxophone section, a gentleman who teaches here at Temple, Dick Oatts is possibly the world's greatest lead alto player. Ask anyone in the business, and they'd probably pick him for big band lead alto. Great player, great teacher, great soul.

For trombone, it's Randy Kapralick, who teaches at the University of the Arts. Recently, I went to hear Norman David's Eleventet, and he was the lead trombone. As soon as I heard Randy, I wrote his name down. For lead trumpet, we've got Nick Marchione, whose father was Tony Marchione. If you talk to any trumpet player—Tony DeSantis, John Swana, Rick Kerber—they'll tell you he was the quintessential trumpet teacher for their generation —they all studied with him. So his son, Nick, who plays both jazz and classical, is the lead trumpet player for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Amazingly, Nick got an orchestra job on Broadway at age 17, which is almost unheard of! And he has photographic memory, and probably has half the Vanguard charts memorized! He's a fabulous musician.

And then, most importantly, for the rhythm section, we have Lee Smith on bass, who is unsurpassed. And then our drummer is Chris Beck. He's a young guy, mentored by Byron Landham and Mickey Roker. Chris grew up in Philly and works a lot in New York. He's a fabulous, powerful, intense drummer. Earlier, we talked about the Philadelphia sound, and part of that sound comes from a certain energy that Philly drummers have. Chris Beck has it! He also has the finesse, don't get me wrong. And then the pianist is Josh Richman, very, very strong.

AAJ: We have some of the best jazz pianists in the world in Philadelphia. So what made you choose to put in one of the younger among them in that slot, rather than one of the legends?

TS: Because of Lee Smith. I wanna see what a veteran like Lee Smith can teach Chris and Josh about a rhythm section. That's part of our concept—mentoring. And then the gentleman who's playing guitar is Greg Kettinger, a veteran who does a lot of big band work. So one feature of our orchestra is to bring together veterans and younger musicians and nurture their work together. That's a part of my idea of mixing personalities.

DA: You can see this is very well thought out.

AAJ: Yes, and very exciting.- lots of potential for development. What I hear is that the musicians will be learning from one another, and that's exactly what makes jazz happen. People interacting, listening, learning. You're bringing in a lot of great concepts that will give drive, energy, and creativity to the orchestra. So, have you begun to fill out the saxophone section?

TS: In addition to Dick Oatts, we've got Chris Farr, Mike Cemprola, second alto, Tim Warfield, second tenor, and a young gentleman named Mark Allen on baritone saxophone.

AAJ: Among your other ventures is the outstanding Terell Stafford Quartet. Do you plan to mingle them with the Jazz Orchestra, or will you keep them separate?

TS: They're two separate things.

Planning for the Future

AAJ: So where do you plan to go from here with the Orchestra? You've had a couple of intro performances at City Hall Courtyard. Your terrific rendition of "Candy" at City Hall is on YouTube.

TS: One of the things I love about this orchestra is how many of us are connected with either Temple University or the University of the Arts. So we'll provide a natural link between these two institutions, which will be fruitful for everyone,

AAJ: What's coming up in the next months or year?

TS: We're really excited about the gala event which will be held on January 7th at the Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall. Wynton Marsalis will come down to show his love and support. Bill Cosby will join us as emcee. Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron, Randy Brecker are coming, and will perform. Unfortunately, Christian McBride and Benny Golson cannot come due to other commitments. Odean Pope is working on an arrangement of one of his own compositions for the band to play. And, in addition, legends Tony Williams, Bootsie Barnes, and Larry McKenna will perform


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