New Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra to play the Kimmel

Temple professor Terell Stafford is artistic director of the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra, which will play Tuesday at the Kimmel with host Bill Cosby.
Temple professor Terell Stafford is artistic director of the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra, which will play Tuesday at the Kimmel with host Bill Cosby. (JIMMY RYAN)
Posted: January 06, 2014

When not driving to Philadelphia for his day job (as a Temple professor), or Manhattan for gigs, trumpeter and composer Terell Stafford is musical founder and artistic director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia (JOP).

This orchestral gathering of 17 of this city's best-loved jazz vets and younger players will headline a glittering Tuesday fund-raiser at the Kimmel Center, playing Philly-centric material, with esteemed guests Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron, Randy Brecker, Larry McKenna, Bootsie Barnes, and Tony Williams.

Who's the emcee? Who else? Bill Cosby.

When not traveling to gigs or sessions, Stafford is grading papers, crafting curriculum, and guiding students at Temple University as its director of jazz studies and chair of instrumental studies.

"Whether it's in Philly or New York, I find a way to collaborate with great musicians," Stafford says. If they're from Philadelphia, "I pull them into the orchestra. . . . Plus, having played in Philly for so long, I met guys the likes of which I've pulled in as guests. All of my experience, past and present, helped to formulate the orchestra, and, surely, the orchestra has an impact on everything else I do."

Stafford played in Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and he has guest-soloed with like-minded outfits in other towns. He couldn't help wondering why Philadelphia didn't have its own such ensemble.

After a gig in Pittsburgh, Stafford got a call from Deanna Adler, manager of Philly sax man Odean Pope. Adler was wondering the same thing.

" 'That's incredible' is what came out of my mouth," says Stafford.

Adler's first step in organizing the logistics was to reach out to Mayor Nutter and start the networking and city support. "She's the founding director doing the business things," Stafford says. "I'm the artistic director, and we split a lot of the other jobs. We're still young." The orchestra had its first two gigs in 2013; Tuesday's date will be number three.

Along with the kick of "bossing around" Marsalis, his onetime leader ("it's funny, right?"), Stafford got great advice from him: "He told me to make sure I put the very best jazz guys in the orchestra, no matter what. That's a challenge because you have friends and guys who want the gig, but there must be chemistry, so I researched and cherry-picked its membership. No one is by chance."

The main thing for JOP is members had to be native or current Philadelphians. Stafford wanted a range of styles and looked for both veterans ("for the sake of maturity") and young players ("so they can carry the torch"). For a program truly "reflective of great Philadelphia jazz," he had to have players such as Philly sax man Bootsie Barnes on his bandstand.

"They got the right guy to lead the orchestra," says Barnes. "I don't know what they want from me yet, because I haven't seen all the charts, but Terell's talented. He can make anything work."

The repertoire draws from the work of Philadelphia composers and/or arrangers. But there can be work by folks not primarily from Philly, such as Duke Ellington (New York) or Billy Strayhorn (who grew up in Pittsburgh), "but we'll find a Philly angle," says Stafford.

"Shirley Scott, Norman David, and Larry McKenna have huge books of arrangements," says Stafford. "We can always commission more." As for composers, he talks up contributions from locals like McCoy Tyner ("Passion Dance"), Benny Golson ("Along Came Betty"), Jimmy Heath ("Gingerbread Boy," the night's finale), and Cheltenham expat trumpet luminary Randy Brecker, who will be on hand to play his tune "Freefall."

Brecker, currently a New Yorker, toured with Stafford last year in Japan, dueling nightly with him on horn. "Usually, he won, but I proudly tried to keep up with him," says Brecker. "He's a 365-degree musician. Plus, he's got the personality to lead that band. He's engaging."

Brecker says a jazz orchestra is long overdue for Philadelphia, to celebrate both its players and the wealth of jazz composition that has come out of this town. "Your city has offered so much to the jazz world, a completely inordinate amount of great musicians, a celebration of itself. Hell, smaller cities than Philly has [such orchestras]. It will give me an extra reason to come home more often."

Gigs at Longwood Gardens and the Painted Bride are a few of JOP's live opportunities for 2014. Stafford is looking forward to several battles-of-the-bands with other orchestras, teaming with the Philadelphia Orchestra strings. He's also working on getting JOP into the studio.

The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia is, for a lot of people, a dream come true. "I played with Shirley Scott when I moved to Philly, and when she got sick, she told me one very important thing: 'Continue,' " says Stafford. "Through teaching at Temple and doing the jazz studies thing, holding various workshops, working locally, and now this, I think we're doing just that: being a guiding light for this city's jazz heritage."


CONCERT

Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia

7 p.m. Tuesday at Verizon Hall, Broad and Spruce Streets.

Tickets: $35-$150.

Information: 215-893-1999 or www.kimmelcenter.org

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