Saturday, April 11, 2009

Odean Pope at Nightstage circa 1987 or So.

This is another conversation from my small archive of interviews from the late 1980's. It is a conversation Craig Schildhauer taped with Odean Pope at a Max Roach show in an odd grubby Cambridge called Nightstage that has long since vanished beneath the waves.

Craig: "What were some of your earliest influences as far as formulating your current musical (approach)?"

Odean Pope: "There was a great keyboardist in Philadelphia. I lived about two or three blocks from him, Hasaan Ibn Ali. He was a great influence on all the musicians there. He was like this extraordinary keyboardist. In fact, he did a recording with Max Roach some time in the early sixties, the Max Roach Trio featuring the Legendary Hasaan. He was a great, great innovator. He was the kind of person that could just create all kinds of different melodies, rhythmic concepts, harmonic concepts, cross rhythms, two against three, three against five, seven/four, nine/four, eight/four and all kinds of different rhythms.

And I was blessed to be living probably about two or three blocks from him. Him and I used to get together sometimes, two or three days a week. And that was the first, early developments. And then after a period of six to eight months, we started getting together practically every day and it was like a sort of institution for me."

"In terms of music, learning all the different kinds of cross rhythms, seven/four, eight/four and things of that nature, from that experience, I think, I listened. I learned to listen to keyboards a lot. I started doing research on Fats Waller, Bill Evans, 'Fatha' Hines, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. And I just started listening to a whole host of keyboard players because I always wanted to play long phrases like keyboard players."

"I was never fond of listening to horn players. Because at a very early age, I developed a sense of thinkin' if you play too much like another horn player, it would be very hard for you to get any kind of recognition. So, as a result, I started listening to a lot of keyboard players. And the greatest influence would be, to answer your question, would be Hasaan Ibn Ali."

Craig: "Was saxophone your first instrument?"

Odean Pope: "In the beginning, I was playin the keyboards, piano player, a piano and clarinet. I played clarinet and piano, I guess probably about four or five years."

Craig: "What made you cross over to saxophone?"

Odean Pope: "Well, I'm thinkin' it was an experience of trying to search and trying to find a voice that would be close to the human voice. And, basically, it's all sort of derived from, like I said earlier, my child experiences like singing in the church. I was always looking for that voice that was going to sound like the (human) voice."

And I don't know whether you know it or not but the saxophone is the closest instrument to the voice. And, as a result, from studying the clarinet and the piano I went through some additional instruments like the oboe, the alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, but for some reason I feel very comfortable with the tenor. I mean, to me the tenor saxophone is the closest voice to the human voice."

Craig: "About what time did you have any teachers that brought you into learning about circular breathing and that kind of technique?"

Odean Pope: "Well, I had some. I studied with Max (Roach). I did some studying with Max. I also did some studying with PMA in Philadelphia. I studied in Paris with Kenny Clarke. I had a whole host of teachers, Ray Bryant was one of my teachers. Hasaan Ibn Ali Was one of my teachers. I did some studying with Jimmy Smith. Archie Shepp and I sorta collaborated because he's originally from Philadelphia. He used to live in Germantown so we collaborated on some things."

"I just had a whole host of different kinds of teachers in terms of writing, improvisation, intonation studies, theory studies with just a whole host of teachers. I feel extremely blessed."

Craig: "Why don't you talk about the Saxophone Choir and where that started and things just previous to that that you've been working on."

Odean Pope: "The Saxophone Choir was sorta derived from the church, bein' raised up in a Baptist church. I started writin' for the Saxophone Choir in the early seventies and I started compilin' different kinds of concepts. Around 1978 I started rehearsin' the Saxophone Choir. And from that point, 1978, the Saxophone Choir consisted of nine saxophones, piano, bass and drums.

Occasionally we played with just the nine saxophones, no bass, no drums and no piano. That was the original idea. Just to play, have the saxophones playin' counterpoint and rhythm, rhythm changes as well as harmonic concepts, same as the bass, piano and drums would be doin'. Some of the newer compositions that I'm writin' now have the saxophones playin' rhythmically and harmonically, the same thing as the piano, bass and drums are playin."

"So I guess around 1978 we did our first performance. We went to New York City. We worked at Rashid Ali's place and Max heard it and from that point Max gave me a lot of support. In 1979 I went to Europe with Max and I got the opportunity there in 1980 to take the Saxophone Choir on a European tour. We did a concert in West Germany, we did something in Holland and from that experience it really inspired me to come back and study and do a lot of research and really get involved with the writing for the Saxophone Choir."

Craig: " How would you describe the situation of the music in general, like in America or in Europe?"

Odean Pope: "Well I see a tremendous change at this point, primarily because so many young people like yourself, Craig. I'm very happy to meet you and I've heard quite a bit about you. Max had mentioned some things about you, also Chris. I think it's going to be a tremendous change primarily because a lot of people like yourself, young people, are getting more involved with the music like Wynton Marsalis (and) Branford.

There are some extremely talented musicians in Philly, Robert Landham, Willie Williams, (and) Joe Soule. They're very young musicians and I think the younger musicians are going to play a tremendous role in bringing the music to its proper place. And at this time I'm very happy to see, from my travels, so many young people becoming involved with the music. And I think that's the nucleus to bringing it around."

Craig: "It seems that conditions in America are improving while the conditions in Europe are slacking off a little bit from what I hear from other musicians".

Odean Pope: " I think it's more or less like a transition, primarily, there are certain circumstances when the same thing is happening here. Now that the dollar is sorta balancing out in Europe, I can see more concerts. Say from 1983, possibly into about 1986, the last of 86 the promoters was like reluctant about bringing a lot of artists over at the time because the dollar was so powerful and they just couldn't afford it. But in the last six or eight months, the economy has really balanced itself out and there's a tremendous change.

And I think the change that has taken place now is primarily all over the world. There's a lot of folks in Europe, there's a lot of people in this country. So it's a rewarding kind of feeling to see this change taking place at the same time where people in Europe as well as in this country are beginning to try to support and bring the music and give it its rightful place in history."

Craig: "Are there other parts of the world that you've traveled and played besides Europe?"

Odean Pope: "Last year we was in India with the Max Roach Quartet. We did a concert in New Delhi and we also did one in Bombay. And from that experience, it's like a dream somewhat comin' true to see that people, if you can envision 750 million people in a place about the size of Texas and what I saw from that experience is so many wonderful people who are really hungry for this kind of music. And I've never been treated better in my whole life than the trip that I was in India in 1986."

Craig: "Did you folks do any work with Indian Musicians while you were over there?"

Odean Pope: "I worked with a tabla player and I worked with a sitar player, I got a chance to. As a matter of fact we was in New Delhi for four days because we did a concert and we was off and I got a chance to go into a performance, there was some Indian musicians playin'. And I got a chance to play with the tabla player and a sitar player and the kinda scales and the chords they play are just incredible. It's like a natural high. I'm workin' on some of the scales. There's a scale, I might just point it out. It's like a scale where you're using the root to flat 9, the third, the fifth and the fourth and the seventh. And it's a whole scale where you try to exhaust all those notes before you repeat yourself."

"And the trick, the secret is utilize or exhaust all those notes before you start comin' around again. And it's a mind boggler because it's so many possibilities, there's so many things there which you can do. You can play the flat nine against the seventh.. You can play the flat nine against the root. You can play the flat nine against the perfect four. You can play the flat nine against the third. You can play the flat nine against the fifth."

"And all of the intervals, you can do the same thing. You can take the fifth and play it against the fourth. It's just a combination of ways how you can approach it. For example, what you're doin', you're takin' a particular scale and makin' secondary roots. You're basic root might be E flat but each time you approach one of the other intervals, you're thinkin' in terms of those intervals as secondary roots. And when you comprise and compile all different kinds of ways, you come up with some very, very unique and different kinds of scales."

Craig: "It's really like drawing as much as you can on the larger structure from the smallest part".

Odean Pope: "Right. That was a wonderful experience. I remember, at the end, I'd made arrangements to play with the tabla player and the sitar player. And we was only supposed to play for about an hour and we got involved, man. It was about three or four hours went past before I realized it. In fact, I had some other commitments at the time. I had no idea where the time went. It just went past so fast, I was unable to do my other things. And I was so high from this I didn't want to do the other commitments because it was like a real natural high, just playin' with the sitar and tabla player."

Craig: "Are there other places in the world that you like to travel and play music?"

Odean Pope: " Well you know from my experiences of just moving around on the East Coast and the West Coast, I'm beginning to enjoy so many wonderful people on the East Coast and the West Coast. I'm meetin' people like your self. I talked to Chris today."

"And there's just a whole host of wonderful people. And what I anticipate and what I see here is the kind of nucleus begin to gel to the extent where I see a whole host of musicians as well as people at some point are going to collaborate and get together and it's going to be what I foresee is something like the Northsea Jazz Festival in Holland. I would like to see big, large festivals like that happenin' here. And I've been talkin' indirectly with some people here and I can see, eventually those kinds of things are going to happen. Because, again, I see it's a lotta young musicians are becoming involved with this music that we perform and that is the secret, to involve the younger musicians to make them a part of what's happening."

Craig: " What do you see as far as the future of your own music and directions that you might go in?"

Odean Pope: "I'm writin' a portrait of my family at this time. What I'm doin', I'm utilizing strings. It'll probably be a seventy five or eighty piece ensemble where I'm utilizing strings, flutes, all of the different instruments and it's going to be probably ten movements and each one of the movements will probably be a tribute to my family. It's like a portrait of my family. Each one of the pieces will be like a portrait of one of the members of my family. So I'm anticipating, in fact, I'm workin' on that now. And I'm thinkin' it's going to take me another year or so before I can complete this project."

Craig: "Anything else?'

Odean Pope: "I'm going to San Francisco next month, as a matter of fact to do some things out on the West Coast with the Saxophone Choir. And I'm hopin' that at some point you and your colleagues can arrange something for me to come up to the University because I'm workin' on some new material and I've just been rehearsin' it with the Saxophone Choir, probably two or three times a week. And it's really getting to a point where I think we need to start to move around and work some because the Saxophone Choir is ready at this point out there."

Craig: "Anything you'd like to add?"

Odean Pope: "I think the nucleus to all that we're doin' is to let the younger people participate more and make them more a part of what's bein' done in terms of explainin' certain concepts, basic concepts, and givin' them a major role. And the nucleus of what they would like to do and what you would like to see happen. I think that's going to strengthen not only this country, but the whole world. Then we can think in terms of that and I'm seein' a tremendous amount of that is taking place at this time and it's a very rewarding kind of feelin' for me".

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