Jazz Album of the Week: Temple University Jazz Band Tribute to Recently Left Philly Icons


Few people count more for Temple University’s music program than Terell stafford, director of jazz studies and chair of instrumental studies. And few people mattered more to Stafford than Jimmy heath, the second saxophonist brother of what one might very reasonably call the first Philadelphia jazz family.

A young Stafford was framed in and out of the booth by Heath on a tour with the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band about 30 years ago, and Heath was the first person the famous trumpeter and educator called when Temple contacted him to direct his jazz program.

“He gave me such great advice,” Stafford recalled in the press release of Without You, No Me, the Temple University Jazz Band’s (TUJB) new tribute to Heath, who, at age 93, died on same day in January 2020 that the Stafford-led Owls won honors at the Jack Rudin Jazz Championship at Lincoln Center.

“’Just learn yourself,’ he said. “Teach who you are. Determine what you are doing, how you are doing it, and teach it. And that will be what the students will need.

Sticking to that advice has apparently enabled Stafford to get the most out of his student musicians, no matter how difficult or new the circumstances. Latest version of TUJB, end of 2020 Covid sessions: a social call was a triumph of sound engineering and musicality, a recording of commendable quality made under unprecedented constraints.

Without you, not from me was not as logistically difficult; circumstances allowed the big band of 21 musicians to play and record together, on the same stage, although still separated by 12 feet and plexiglass partitions. The ingenious portable sound platforms – designed by Temple music technology teacher John Harris and Dr David Pasbrig – that allowed every student musician to record their part remotely on A Social Call were reused this time around – here to allow two mega-stars with busy schedules. join the party remotely.

It’s not often that you hear a big band tableau organized around a bassist who, in addition to being the star improviser, is also responsible for playing the main melodic part. But not all big bands have Christian McBride or a bass arranger at their disposal. Bassist John Clayton, half of the famous Clayton Brothers and longtime Stafford collaborators, arranged this version of Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” especially for this staff and recording.

If I hadn’t known that before, there would be no way for me to tell that McBride wasn’t in the same room as the whole orchestra, recording in real time. Even the dynamics, which you think would require everyone to be in the same room to really nail down, is right.

McBride’s childhood pal and former high school classmate Joey DeFrancesco is the other featured superstar, leading the big band with rich, velvety, and distinctively bouncy improvisations on a version of his “In That Order” arranged for the show. occasion by Grammy Award-winning pianist Bill. Cunliffe.

Up close, a Larry McKenna arrangement that shakes the hips and burns the carpet of “Perdido”, DeFrancesco and McBride play together (so to speak). What a pleasure it must be for the student soloists here – all professional quality, by the way – to perform solo to the accompaniment of DeFrancesco and McBride. These are the kinds of things you save to pass on to your grandchildren. But it’s clearly different from the weekend warriors who frequent the Phillies fantasy camp and play wrestling with their heroes; these kids are worthy of calling the colleagues of McBride and DeFrancesco.

Singer Danielle Dougherty is one of the college students who in TUJB’s last two recordings looks set to have a bright future. She shone in the Covid sessions and could be even better here, first on “Please Don’t Talk About Me” and then on “The Blues Ain’t Nothin ‘(But Some Pain)” by Shirley Scott. She sings with insolence, smoke and great intonation; the arrangements, both by young saxophonist and Temple alumnus Jack St. Clair, really do a good job of amplifying his strengths.

While Without you book on many fronts, it’s really about celebrating the greats we’ve lost over the past two difficult years. Jack St. Clair’s “Bootsie” epitomizes the sound, sensibility and personality of Philly icon and tenor Bootsie Barnes, while Christian McBride’s “The Wise Old Owl” mimics legendary man-driven teams as that – here honors. Like John Chaney’s Owls, this one is methodical, deliberate and, at carefully selected times, as intense as Chaney’s vaunted match-up zone and most memorable of his post-match press conferences. McBride, like Chaney, is an expert in choosing his spots.

Ultimately, the tunes written for and / or inspired by Heath – “Passing of the Torch” by saxophonist Todd Bashore and the two arrangements of Heath’s compositions, “Voice of the Saxophone” and “Without You, No Me” – shine the most.

The latter, the album’s title track, is a song Heath originally wrote for one of his mentors, Dizzy Gillespie. And now Stafford and Co. have played it for Heath, coming full circle. It’s the kind of thing you just see more of in jazz than in other communities on the music spectrum. And that’s why, no matter how often or how much people proclaim jazz dead, these reports always turn out to be grossly exaggerated.

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Henry R. Wright

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