Born: October 24, 1938 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Odean Pope was born in Ninety-Six, South Carolina to musical parents who rooted him in the sounds of the Southern Baptist Church. After moving to Philadelphia at the age of ten, his lifelong study of music began in earnest and was buttressed by The Graniff School of Music and Benjamin Franklin High School's music program.
Odean grew up in jazz rich territory with other Philadelphia notables such as: John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy and Percy Heath, Ray Bryant, Bill Barron, Kenny Barron, Archie Shepp, Jymie Merritt, Jimmy Garrison, Philly Joe Jones and Dizzy Gillespie. Coltrane chose Odean to replace him in Jimmy Smith's Group when he left for New York to join Miles Davis. Although he was close to Coltrane and continues to revere his artistry, Odean was always searching for his own musical sound. This led him to study with Ron Rubin, the principal woodwind player in the Philadelphia Orchestra. At a later time he studied at The Paris Conservatory for Music under Kenny Clarke. It was there that he received his Certificate in Orchestration, Modern harmony, African rhythms, Be-Bop Art Forms and Arrangement. He studied with the pianist, Ray Bryant, bassist, Jymie Merritt and was significantly influenced by the brilliant, if not eccentric pianist, Hasaan Ibn Ali. Odean adds, Then being able to study with Max (Roach) from '79 up until '02, was like going to one of the highest institutions in the whole world.
Integrating several musical influences including the church choir of his youth, Philadelphia jazz and R&B of the 50's and classical woodwind chamber music, led Odean in the early 70's to help form Catalyst, a collective of musicians and music representing his new aesthetic. A two-CD set was reissued in 1999 on 32 Records as: Catalyst: The Funkiest Band You Never Heard. It was music ahead of its time. In 1979, Odean joined the Max Roach Quartet as a regular member for more than two decades. It was as the tenor man with Max Roach that Odean perfected the techniques of circular breathing and multiphonics, both allowing him to stretch his solo improvisations from dazzling elevations to the throbbing, husky sounds for which he is so well known, to all kinds of delicacy in getting from one to the other. Odean won acclaim from Australia to Japan, even winning Best Tenor Saxophone Player at the North Sea Jazz Festival.
Odean works with his trio, (Lee Smith, Craig McIver) quartet and saxophone choir. The saxophone choir is formatted with nine saxophones, and was established by Odean in 1977 and premiered in 1985 with a Soul Note album called The Saxophone Shop. The saxophone choir has been the realization of his southern legacy; a medium for creating the richly textured harmonic sound that has permeated his musical soul since childhood. Even though he plays clarinet, oboe, piccolo, flute and piano, Odean feels an affinity for the tenor saxophone because it most closely mimics the human voice. He constructs layers of melodic sound by playing within the fourth system in different tone scales using multiphonics, achieving several pitches together, for which he is well known. The choir reaches a stunning intensity that is simultaneously one voice and is also, as described by Francis Davis, harmonically engorged.
Odean has led two musical lives. Whereas his musical legion left for New York, Odean kept Philadelphia as his home base. Having grown up in North Philadelphia, Odean has always felt a strong commitment to his community through working musically with the children. He was musical director of a Philadelphia cultural initiative, Model Cities. He started the jazz studies program at the Settlement Music School and he continues to give master classes in the School District of Philadelphia, as well as nationally and internationally.
Odean Pope's artistry as performer, composer and arranger has earned him many citations from the City of Philadelphia. Among his many awards are: The Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Music Composition (1992), The Rockefeller Foundation (1992) and several from Chamber Music America.
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-'l 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) and ‘Scott Free' (Soul Note) and ‘To The Max !’ (Mesa), and has contributed several pieces to the band’s book.
The music (on the Ponderer) is dense but luxuriant, and it moves quickly. Thoroughly propulsive. -Jim Macnie, Boston Phoenix
Odean Pope's Saxophone Choir hit the groove. -John Diliberto, Down Beat
The Ponderer wallops you, then surprises you with its subtlety before you can recover. -Village Voice
Max Roach's longtime saxman Odean Popes Philly proud saxophone ensemble was one of the most explosive units of the 1994 Montreal Jazz Festival. -Willard Jenkins, Jazz-Times
Tenor man Odean Pope builds a richly arranged environment deserving of the choral moniker on Epitome, the Choir's third CD for Soul Note. An elegant feel is established right away. Pope's own deep, throaty tenor is the horn highlight. -John Corbett, Down Beat
Charged with the progressive energy of the Avant-guarde and tempered by the meditative, soulful communication of the classic jazz tradition, The Mystery of Prince Lasha is worth discovering. -Greg Camphire, All About Jazz)
Bask in the excitement of the music. -Mike Shanley, Jazz Times
(Odean Pope) continues to be a faithful steward of his muse. His latest trip to The Spirit Room marked another milestone. -Derek Taylor, Bagatellen
Pope is simply stoked throughout the set, whether the vehicle is a playfully Monkish romp, a chestnut-flavored ballad replete with a sweeping cadenza or a bristling flag-waver. -Bill Shoemaker, Point of Departure
Any living saxophonist would be glad to take credit for this record. -Ron Sweetman, CODA
The writing for the saxophone Choir is brilliant, its musicianship superb...to see Odean Pope and The Saxophone Choir and Trio is to be galvanized by the infinite magic of possibility. -Ron Welburn, Down Beat Magazine