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Watch Odean Pope light a fire with Immanuel Wilkins and Kresten Osgood, freeform at the Ruba Club

Odean Pope, performing at Ruba Club in Philadelphia on March 31, 2022.
Odean Pope, performing at Ruba Club in Philadelphia on March 31, 2022.

When Odean Pope was growing up in North Philadelphia, he read an article suggesting that the saxophone was the musical instrument that best evoked the sound of a human voice. Compelled, he made this a focus of his personal exploration — notably with his Saxophone Choir, a storied ensemble that has enjoyed several incarnations, earning fervent admirers.

Pope was born on this day 85 years ago, in the small town of Ninety Six, S.C. (He was 10 when his family moved north.) To call him a Philadelphia jazz legend would be understatement; like his own saxophone hero, John Coltrane, he’s an adopted son of the City of Brotherly Love, but one who perfectly embodies its questing spirit and unyielding work ethic. That much has been powerfully clear in his body of work, spanning not only the Saxophone Choir but also an eventful tenure with drummer Max Roach and a stake in the trailblazing jazz-funk band Catalyst.

Odean Pope and Immanuel Wilkins at the Ruba Club in Philadelphia, March 31, 2022.
Odean Pope and Immanuel Wilkins at the Ruba Club in Philadelphia, March 31, 2022.

Last year, WRTI and Ars Nova Workshop joined forces to present a concert by Pope, the intrepid young alto saxophonist and Blue Note artist Immanuel Wilkins (a former student), and the ingenious Danish drummer Kresten Osgood. Held at the Ruba Club as the launch party for Dangerous Sounds — a WRTI podcast, hosted by Osgood, that explores the evolution of jazz in Denmark — this evening captured the imaginative breadth and physical intensity of Pope’s creative voice. Over the course of three pieces, all spontaneously and collectively composed, the trio forged their own magic alchemy. We’re proud to share that performance with you today.

Listen especially for the moments when Pope’s tenor and Wilkins’ alto achieve a sort of vocal blend, or pursue some form of heated crosstalk — one vestige of the early insight that led Pope down his artistic path. On Nov. 1, Wilkins will perform again in tribute to Pope, who will receive Ars Nova Workshop’s Nova Award as part of the organization’s fourth annual fundraising gala.

Odean Pope, tenor saxophone
Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone
Kresten Osgood, drums

Filmed by CA Studios
Christopher McDonald, camera
Jeremy McDonald, camera
Alex Ariff, concert film edit
Mitch Demmler, intro segment edit
Colin Marshall, colorist consultant
Tyler McClure, audio engineer and mix
Paul Marchesani, audio assistant

Event produced by Josh Jackson (WRTI) and Mark Christman (Ars Nova Workshop.)

Support for this program has been provided by JazzDanmark, The Danish Ministry of Culture, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Danish Arts Foundation and The Augustinus Foundation.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.