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The Singular Voice of Saxophone Virtuoso Odean Pope

Odean Pope

The Philadelphia-based tenor sax player and composer Odean Pope is known worldwide in jazz circles for his impeccable artistry and for his Saxophone Choir. He's had a steady gig at the Blue Note in NYC for many years, and is a longtime soloist with the Max Roach Quartet.

Listen to more of Meridee Duddleston's conversation with Odean Pope on November 5, 2015.

Odean Pope took up the saxophone in the early '50s at around age 13. He was enthralled when the sax players stepped out to perform for the big bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton.  It was a time when the now bygone ornate Earle Theater at 11th and Market streets in Philadelphia drew acts, bands, and performers from around the country. 

Pope went on to play professionally, and decades later founded his Saxophone Choir. His list of influences and professional relationships is rich and full, including more than 20 years with bebop innovator Max Roach. He spent time studying music in Paris and traveled to South Africa, where tribal customs and rituals inspired his music.  When asked about his favorite compositions he answers without hesitation: Epitome and To the Roach.

Odean Pope continues to compose and perform in trios, quartets, sextets, octets and his Saxophone Choir.   He also teaches aspiring jazz musicians at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts.

Radio script:
The influences of a lifetime coalesce in moments of musical clarity.  WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston hears from tenor saxophonist and composer Odean Pope and about what shapes his sound.

Meridee Duddleston: Sheet music, neatly stacked papers, and a saxophone lay on the dining room table at the home of Philadelphia composer and jazz musician Odean Pope. He’s getting ready for another performance. After a lifetime of work, he shows me what he means when he says "Every day, I pick I pick up that horn and strive to be myself."

Odean Pope: Let me pick it up right now.

MUSIC:  "I Want To Talk About You"

OP: I been playing that tune for many years, but every time I try something a little different and that’s what I did...

MD:  When he was 10, Pope and his family moved to Philadelphia from a town in South Carolina called Ninety-Six, the name of one of his CDs. His rich jazz terrain included the neighborhoods of John Coltrane and Benny Golson, and as he got older they exchanged ideas. But it was the musical sound of the human voice that propelled him then, and now.

OP: I studied keyboards for a while, I studied the clarinet for a while, and when I picked the saxophone up it seemed very natural to me. It was like the human voice, which the saxophone is.  It’s the closest instrument to the human voice.  

MD:  That voice is one of the reasons Pope created his signature saxophone choir.  Not a band, an ensemble, or a group, but alto, tenor and baritone saxophones...

MUSIC: Epitome, composed by Odean Pope, performed by the Saxophone Choir on the the CD, Locked and Loaded

MD: ...Singing together in full harmony like the Baptist church choirs an eight-year-old first heard in South Carolina, carried with him to this day.