Odean Pope Benefit at the Philadelphia Clef Club March 21, 2011


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It has often been noted that the community of jazz musicians is as close and caring as an extended family. Indeed, in Philadelphia, modern jazz received a major thrust in the 1950s-60s when pioneers like John Coltrane, the Heath Brothers, McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson, James Moody, and a small army of others would get together in each others' homes to practice, invent, talk, and cement lifetime bonds, while the parents would host, listen, befriend, and cook up meals for them. Among those who came of age in that tradition was the great saxophonist Odean Pope, who played in Max Roach's groups for more than two decades, and always made Philadelphia his home, playing, composing, leading groups like his famous Saxophone Choir, and mentoring countless younger musicians.

In a real sense, Odean Pope has been a loving and endlessly giving father figure in the Philadelphia jazz family. So when his mental illness of bipolar disorder brought him down (he has now recovered quite well through ongoing psychiatric treatment and medication), and he encountered a host of severe financial problems, word got out that he was struggling. His business manager, Deena Adler (who also happens to be a psychologist), spread the word about Pope's dilemma, and musicians and friends banded together to help him. They organized a benefit concert for him at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz, and many musicians along with comedian Bill Cosby, who is a close friend of Pope and many other jazz players in the region, joined together to perform, say kind words, and honor “Odean" with all of the ticket sales going to help him and his family in their time of need.

The concert was a virtual jazz festival, with events held on three stages: the auditorium, the fourth floor education room, and the library of the Clef Club. Many of the players could form a Hall of Fame of Philly Jazz greats: Kenny Barron, Reggie Workman, Warren Smith, Monette Sudler, Tony Williams, and Craig McIver, to name but a few. The auditorium events began with the astonishing Philadelphia Youth Jazz Ensemble, founded at the Clef Club, and directed by Lovett Hines, who recalled stories about Pope's influence and support. Next came the “jazz poet" Sonia Sanchez, who “scatted" her poems with Warren Oree accompanying her stunningly on the upright bass. The revered and awesome pianist Kenny Barron played “Well You Needn't," “Blue Monk," and “Lover Man" with Workman and Smith. Bill Cosby came on stage in his classic Temple University sweatshirt and had great fun with alto saxophonist Tony Williams. Pope himself, dignified as ever, talked about bipolar disorder with Deena Adler at his side, and then broke out into an artful tenor sax solo. His octet and Saxophone Choir did the honors as the closing acts. J. Michael Harrison of WRTI-FM was enthusiastic emcee, while WRTI's Jeff Duperon and Maureen Malloy hosted the festivities in the other rooms.

Among the performers in the education room and library, which the present reviewer was not able to get to because the aisles and stairs were jammed by an SRO crowd, were jazz notables like Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Walter Blanding, Bobby Zankel, Justin Faulkner. Gerald Veasley, Willie Williams, Craig McIver, George Burton, the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble, Monnette Sudler, and the legendary Bootsie Barnes.

Donations to assist Odean Pope and his family may be made courtesy of the Jazz Bridge,. Go to http://www.jazzbridge.org/donate/ and specify the Odean Pope Fund in your contribution. The Jazz Bridge Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping jazz musicians in need among its many important functions in the jazz community.

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