When his family moved to Philadelphia from South Carolina, ODEAN POPE’s study of music began in earnest via the Granoff School of Music, Benjamin Franklin High School’s music program, and private lessons with Ray Bryant. Odean grew up in rich Jazz territory with Philadelphia notables John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy and Percy Heath, Bill and Kenny Barron, Archie Shepp, Jymie Merritt, Jimmy Garrison and Philly Joe Jones. “So many ideas, so much information floating around during that period,” Pope reminisces, that Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore) alone had ten venues. Coltrane chose Odean to replace him in organist Jimmy Smith’s Group when ‘Trane left for New York to join Miles Davis.
Later, Odean studied at The Paris Conservatory for Music under Kenny Clarke, and there he received his Certificate in Orchestration, harmony, and arrangement. He was significantly influenced by the brilliant but eccentric pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali, adding “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.” During his decades with Max Roach, he perfected the techniques of circular breathing and multiphonics, allowing him to stretch his solo improvisations to dazzling heights, acclaimed from Australia to Japan and winning “Best Tenor Saxophone Player” at the North Sea Jazz Festival.
Pope 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 children. He was musical director of a Philadelphia cultural initiative, “Model Cities,” and integrating several musical influences – including the church choir of his youth – Pope helped form Catalyst, a collective of musicians and music representing his new aesthetic. It was music ahead of its time.
Odean now works with his trio, quartet and saxophone choir. The saxophone choir is formatted with nine saxophones, was established by Pope in 1977 and premiered in 1985 with an album called The Saxophone Shop. The saxophone choir has been the realization of his southern legacy: a medium for creating the richly textured sound that has permeated his musical soul since childhood, reaching a stunning intensity that is harmonically rich yet simultaneously one voice.
He started the Jazz studies program at Settlement Music School and continues to give master classes in the School District of Philadelphia. Pope’s artistry as performer, composer and arranger has earned him many citations from the City of Philadelphia, and he has been awarded the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Music Composition and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and Chamber Music America.
Odean insists that “Music comes from everywhere…every person should have music in their life” and that the Philadelphia Real Book “Is going to be great” because there are so many “Extremely talented musicians from Philadelphia.”