Entertainment » Music

Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia Makes Saturday 'A Night in Havana'

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jun 9, 2017

Philadelphia's jazz scene is as vibrant as ever and at the forefront of its resurgence is trumpeter Terell Stafford. In addition to being the head of Jazz Studies at Temple University, he is musical director and conductor of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia. The 17- piece big- band has a roster of some of the finest young jazz musicians in Philly along with such virtuoso players as bassist Lee Smith and saxophonists Dick Oatts and Tim Warfield.

All of the musicians have their separate bands or solo careers, so JOP doesn't have a lengthy performance season. And it is doubly impressive that they have covered so much ground with their repertory and have established their signature sound. This weekend the orchestra will perform at the Kimmel Center the band's home venue, for a concert dubbed 'A Night in Havana' featuring guest trumpeter Jon Faddis and pianist Elio Villafranca.

"The group is still in the infancy stages. But we will be continuing to build it," Stafford said in a phone interview last week. The bandleader was enjoying a rare afternoon off, enjoying a gorgeous June day with his six-month-old daughter Mia in the backyard of his New Jersey home. "The band has done a lot a swing compositions and arrangements," Stafford notes, "and we always do something new as well." To punctuate the point Mia was upstaging her dad, and he was busting up laughing as she vocalized with some high Cs that would rival his range on the trumpet, "She's just so happy to be outside," Stafford said.

JOP has introduced innovative arrangements on big-band classic and standards from the golden age of the Big Band era of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Glenn Miller, to name a few, but they also are just as vigorous in premiering new compositions that push the genre in new directions.

For the 'Night in Havana' concert Elio Villafranca, a Cuban virtuoso in both classical and jazz, has composed new music for the first half of the show. "I started working with Elio 18 years ago, and we worked clubs together. He's a great musician and an incredible human being," Stafford said.

Jon Faddis will join the band in the second half of the Havana concert, for their homage to jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie, who along with Charlie Parker led the be-bop era in the late 40s that ushered in the jazz revolutions hard bop, cool, progressive and fusion. These jazz genres are all part of the musical templates of JOP.

"Jon will be playing Dizzy's music," Stafford said, and will undoubtedly be picking up his horn as well for some of the numbers. As a trumpeter himself, Stafford still is astounded by Gillespie's singular artistry.

"When I first heard Dizzy, it was one of the most intimidating things I ever heard in my life. The ease in which he played and how the ideas flowed and his musicality and compositional sense. His gracious humor and how much he gave us musically. His music still affects me the same way. What a trumpeter he was and educator to us all," he observes. "Dizzy's virtuosity set a trend for the level of playing that we all still aspire to."

"And without knowing Jon, when I was younger, I probably wouldn't be doing this... he gave me a lot of chances. He pretty much taught me how to play, and he got me in his group the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band," Stafford said.

In addition to being JOP musical director and conductor, Stafford tours with his own Quintet and with the multi-Grammy Award-winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Even in his multiple roles as musician, bandleader, educator he still plays most often as a regular member of the band.

"At Temple, my students ask me if I ever get butterflies on stage and of course I do. Whether it's in front of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia or when I'm in front of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, yes, after 17 years there, butterflies are still there," he admitted. "When you are around a level of musicianship so high, you have to be on your 'A' game, even if you are having a 'C' day. To bring 120 percent to the music."

In Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia's concerts, Stafford usually doesn't pick up his horn until late in the show and without any warm-up, but completely in the zone, his trumpet blazing with the rest of the band. "People have criticized me for not playing more during our concerts. But it's about the whole team, not one person and to continue the legacies of great musicians."

Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia performs June 10, 2017, at the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center, Broad & Pine St. Philadelphia. For information visit www.kimmelcenter.org/ | or call 215-893-1999.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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