Odean Pope: Gap Fund Artist Profile
The Village launched the Emergency Gap Fund for Philadelphia’s Black Working Artists in April 2020 to support Philadelphia’s culture bearers, visionaries, connectors and creative entrepreneurs with unrestricted grants of $500 during the pandemic. These profiles showcase a few of the remarkable creators that make Philadelphia the city we are proud to call home.
Saxophonist Odean Pope is a founding father of Philadelphia jazz, an educator, composer, arranger, and master saxophonist. But before we can talk about his career, he wants to talk about The Village.
“You have created so much there,” he says. Mr. Pope worked at The Village’s predecessor organization, the Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center, back in the 1970s under founder Arthur Hall. Last summer, Odean visited The Village for the first time in decades to teach a master class with our music students.
“The time I was there I was so excited and amazed at how much creativity has been put into the former Ile Ife. It was very inspiring. Arthur Hall had a vision that extends above many people today. We would meet at the top floor of the house on Germantown Ave [now The Village’s main building]. He was very patient, he had a great sense of humor. I learned so much from working with him.”
This is how talking with Odean Pope goes — a never-ending catalogue of memory and celebration of Philadelphia’s jazz and music legacy. Jimmy Oliver, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Hasan Ibn Ali. Odean worked with and learned from them all.
A few images from 30 minutes of reminiscing: jazz clubs full of Black women in furs and Black men in neckties, enjoying music on a Thursday night at 13th and Diamond. Traveling in a van with Dizzy Gillespie through England, “like the highest university in the whole world.”
Or how about the day that Philadelphia jazz pianist and visionary, Hasaan Ibn Ali, heard a teenage Odean practicing at home, and knocked on his window to invite him to come over and jam together. Ibn Ali was so far ahead musically, Odean says, that nobody could keep up with the combinations he played — but now, “For every one note that people come from Philadelphia play, out of 3 notes, every one note is Haasan Ibn Ali.” That day was the beginning of decades of mentorship and collaboration.
Today, Odean sounds energized, as full of wonder as the day he heard that knock on his window. His project “Sounds of the Circle” brings together an intergenerational collective of artists to cultivate an ecosystem of mentorship and transmission of legacy for today’s young musicians. Coronavirus has dealt the Circle’s plans a blow, but he’s not letting the virus stop learning and improvisation.
“The other day I played with bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma over Zoom. He can play at home, I can play at home and we can play together. I’m excited about learning how to use new platforms to play together and exchange ideas. Through the creative, all things are possible.”
Visit Odean’s website to hear his music and learn more about his legacy.