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Odean Pope

Odean Pope Tenor saxophonist and composer

Tenor saxophonist and composer Odean Pope is an exceptionally compelling and original musician. As listeners heard when he performed at the Sydney Jazz Festival In 1998, with the great drummer Max Roach, he possesses a very powerful sound, and a quite awesome control of his instrument, including the use of multiphonic and circular breathing techniques.

As The Age review noted,

"Pope was the revelation of the night. His brawny tone ran the gamut from booming low notes to armor-piercing screams, and his attack never flinched in the face of Roach's most ferocious barrages."

Odean was born in the town in the town of Ninety Six, South Carolina, but grew up in Philadelphia. Philadelphia had a thriving jazz scene in the post war era and produced such notable jazz artists as John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner, the Heath Brothers, Ray Bryant, Kenny Barron, Bill Barron, Archie Shepp, Jymie Merritt, Jimmy Garrison and Philly Joe Jones.

Odean played his share of R&B gigs (at the Uptown Theater, he played in the house band behind such names as James Brown and Marvin Gaye). He studied with Ray Bryant, and was especially influenced by the pianist Hasaan lbn Ali (a brilliant but obscure figure who made just one record, The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan. He was clearly aware of and deeply impressed by the music of John Coltrane.  But unlike so many other tenor saxophonists, he managed to absorb Coltrane's message while developing a recognizable sound of his own.

As Odean told Down Beat in 1983,

"At a-very-early age, I sort of cancelled saxophone players out .... I found out that you never get any recognition if you played too much like someone else. I started to listen to piano players. I wondered what it would be like if I could play my horn like Hasaan or Art Tatum or Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton or Bill Evans. Dynamically, harmonically and melodically, I think I got a tremendous amount of knowledge from that experience."

Apart from touring Europe with Max Roach in 1967-68, Odean was content for many years to work in Philadelphia, playing and teaching. Odean joined the cooperative group, Catalyst, in 1971. They made four albums before disbanding in 1974.
Odean formed The Saxophone Choir in 1977. The concept was inspired by his early experiences in the Baptist church. "I was brought up in the church." Odean recalls, "and they used to have choirs that I would sing in. Deep down, I always asked myself how it would sound to have nine saxophones do the same thing." As he points out, "Saxophones are the instruments closest to the human voice."

The Saxophone Choir has performed in the USA and Vieu, Germany and at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland. Odean says — "I have but one goal for the Saxophone Choir: it should sound like one instrument."

In 1979 Max Roach again invited Odean to join his quartet. He still tours regularly with Roach and has made seven recordings with him including Chattahoochee Red (Columbia), Scott Free (Soul Note), and To The Max! (Mesa), and has contributed several pieces to the band's book.

Odean made his first recording as a leader in 1982, Almost Like Me, for the Moers Music label. That was followed by another trio record for Moers, Out For A Walk, while his Saxophone Choir made Saxophone Shop, The Ponderer, and Epitome for Soul Note. His most recent trio albums are Ninety Six for  the Enja label, and Collective Voices for CIMP.

Last year Odean toured Europe, co-leading a band with fellow saxophonist David Murray. Other notable artists he has played with through the years include Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp, Lee Morgan, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Jimmy Garrison, and Jimmy Smith.

Odean is active in music education both within the Philadelphia community and at various colleges in the USA. He received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts Award in 1991-92, and a Rockefeller Award in 1992.

Odean's current Trio band mates, both from Philadelphia, are the formidable bassist Tyrone Brown — whose association with Odean dates back to Catalyst and who is also a long-term member of the Max Roach Quartet — and young drummer Craig McIver, who joined the Trio in 1993.

odeanpope.com


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