When his friend, colleague, mentor and confidante Jimmy Heath
died in January 2020, trumpeter Terell Stafford
's first impulse was to find a way to honor and remember the renowned Philadelphia-born saxophonist. As Stafford is director of the Temple University Jazz Band, also in Philadelphia, an obvious way would be to record a tribute album, which Stafford set about preparing. And then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, scuttling those plans and most others on the drawing board.
The band did manage to release one album, The Covid Sessions: A Social Call
, during the pandemic, recorded at long-distance with students "phoning in" their performances from homes across the country, but it wasn't until April 2021 that they were able to gather in the spacious Temple Performing Arts Center using social distancing, plexiglass dividers and half-hour "fresh air breaks" to record Without You, No Me
, a picturesque tribute to Heath featuring special guests (and fellow Philadelphians) bassist Christian McBride
and organist Joey DeFrancesco
The album also honors two other Philly legends who died within the past year: saxophonist Bootsie Barnes
and Hall of Fame basketball coach John ChaneyBarnes with Temple alumnus Jack Saint Clair
's high-octane "Bootsie," Chaney with McBride's multi-layered "The Wise Old Owl." Heath wrote the breezy "Without You, No Me" (for Dizzy Gillespie
) and the eloquent "Voice of the Saxophone," DeFrancesco the fast-paced "In That Order," Todd Bashore
(a former student of Heath's) the assertive opener, "Passing of the Torch." Danielle Dougherty
sings (quite well) on Saint Clair's perceptive arrangements of the standard "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" and Shirley Scott
's soulful "The Blues Ain't Nothin' (But Some Pain)." Bassist John Clayton
arranged "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (showcasing McBride's full-throated bass), pianist Bill Cunliffe
"In That Order." The freewheeling closer, Juan Tizol
's "Perdido," was scored by another Philadelphia icon, saxophonist Larry McKenna
. DeFrancesco solos on "In That Order" and (with McBride) on "Perdido," McBride again on "The Wise Old Owl" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love."
The band is admirable throughout, as are its (unnamed) soloists, one of whom may (or may not) be Stafford. McBride and DeFrancesco? Impeccable, as always. Splendid cover art too: a silhouette of Heath, saxophone in hand, against a backdrop of Philadelphia skyscrapers. A warm and spacious salute to a jazz colossus that was well worth the wait.
Passing of the Torch; Without You, No Me; Bootsie; Please Don’t Talk About Me; In That
Order; Voice of the Saxophone; I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; The Wise Old Owl; The
Blues Ain’t Nothin’ (But Some Pain); Perdido.
Omeed Nyman: bass trombone; Danielle Dougherty: vocals.