June 17, 2024

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Odean Pope – A forceful performer with a searching intelligence: Video

24.10. – Happy Birthday !!! He born on 1938, Ninety Six, South Carolina, USA. Both Pope’s parents were musical, his mother playing piano and organ in church, his father a trombonist and drummer.

The family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when he was still a small child and from the age of 14, he studied at the Midway and Granoff schools of music. An admirer of Lester Young, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Pope became proficient on tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet, oboe and piano. As a teenager, he worked with Lee Morgan, and was asked by John Coltrane to take his place for him in the Jimmy Smith Trio (Coltrane was leaving to join Davis and still had two weeks of his contract to fulfil). In 1964, Pope was briefly with Chet Baker and the following year he began a spell playing in the house band at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, backing artists such as Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and the Temptations. In these early years of his career, Pope also participated in a series of jazz concerts at the University of Pennsylvania as a member of a quintet led by classically trained drummer Jimmy DePriest, who many years later became conductor of the Monaco Symphony Orchestra.

Pope first came to widespread attention on the international jazz scene in 1967 when he joined Max Roach’s quartet for a year long stint. He then returned to Philadelphia, intent on developing his playing skills even further. During this period, he was encouraged and advised by Ray Bryant and also played with Art Blakey. Pope’s association with Roach, as a member of the drummer’s quartet and the double quartet began in earnest in the late 70s and continued into the early 00s, including a European tour in 1991. Among several appearances on record with this group are Pictures In A Frame, Easy Winners and To The Max! Concurrently, Pope worked outside the Roach group, including a spell with Billy Paul, and notably as leader from 1971-74 of the co-operative fusion band, Catalyst. He also made an impact at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the late 80s as leader of his own trio. He has also worked with distinction as leader of the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, an eight or sometimes nine saxophone ensemble with rhythm section that he has led since 1977, recording The Saxophone Shop, The Ponderer and Epitome. This group often performs with an added guest horn; among these have been Michael Brecker, James Carter and Joe Lovano.

Among other artists with whom Pope has worked are Tyrone Brown, Benny Golson, Khan Jamal, Philly Joe Jones, Byard Lancaster, Mickey Roker, Archie Shepp, Billy Taylor, Clark Terry, and Grover Washington Jnr. Pope has also played in duo with pianist Dave Burrell and with classical harp virtuoso Gloria Galante, head of the harp programme at West Chester University. In 1992, Pope was a winner of the Pew Foundation Grant and in 1999, he was guest soloist with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra for a concert celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. For many years, Pope has been active in music education within the Philadelphia school system. In the mid- and late 70s, he taught at the Model Cities Cultural Arts Association, also at summer music camps, at community colleges in Philadelphia and Cleveland, and was artist-in-residence at Amherst College from the late 70s. He has also conducted master classes at many locations, including Temple University, Philadelphia, and at the Savannah Jazz Festival. In the early 00s, he received a composing grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and Chamber Music America.

A forceful performer with a searching intelligence, Pope has developed certain Coltrane concepts, seeking and finding a studied underpinning to the cascading playing that marked the latter’s work. As a composer, Pope is equally comfortable with energized pieces and profound ballads. Deeply emotional, highly charged and brilliantly performed, Pope’s spirited and deeply spiritual work deserves much greater awareness on the international stage.

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