Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia
Photo: Terell Stafford

Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia

Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia

Terell Stafford, Artistic Director

Joey DeFrancesco, guest artist

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, June 1, 2019

www.jophilly.org

The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia was back in Verizon Hall with a concert built around an instrument not usually a part of the orchestration in big band jazz repertory, namely, the pipe organ. But bandleader Terell Stafford proved what the instrument could bring to big band jazz in one barnburner concert June 1, with the thrilling virtuosity of soloist Joey DeFrancesco.   

The concert kicked off with keyboardist Lucas Brown warming up a solo organ improvisation on Verizon Hall’s famed Fred J. Memorial Organ that cleaned out those 7,000 pipes.  Then bandleader Stafford strolled on and after a few warm words with the audience, the orchestra launched into a high-octane orchestral ‘Passion Dance’ composed by another Philadelphia giant McCoy Tyner. JOP pianist Josh Richman, dancing over the keyboard, articulating Tyner’s propulsive rhythmic drive.  JOP blasts off with its 13 horns, but the drive of the rhythm section- Richman on piano, Steve Fidyk on drums, Greg Kettinger on guitar and the great Lee Smith on bass- is equally impressive.

Among the many other musical highlights of this 2 hours plus concert~

 John Coltrane’s progressive big band architecture of ‘Straight Street’, featuring sterling solos by Mark Allen on baritone sax and Joe Magnerelli on trumpet. Coltrane showcases JOP’s horns in their full depth of sound dimensions that spikes through Verizon Hall. JOP’s sonics can sometimes be restrained in the smaller chamber orchestra size Kimmel’s Perelman Theater, where they also perform.  

Stafford continuing to mine the richest heritage of Philadelphia jazz by paying tribute to another legend, organist Shirley Scott, who Stafford reminded was a mentor to trumpeter Stafford and one of JOP’s premier saxophonist, Tim Warfield.  And each took solo’s on Scott’s sumptuous composition “Basie in Mind”  a tribute to the Count Basie’s signature sound, that soulfully swings deep, even in its most orchestrally soft.  

Kicking off the second half of the concert, DeFrancesco unceremoniously ambled over to the Fred J. Cooper colossus console, literally pulling out all the organ stops, then moved over to his own smaller but no less, in his hands, an equally mighty instrument.  DeFrancesco played a set with the band that was so indelible to his artistry and musical muscle. Every section of the band in top form and DeFrancesco’s concerto jazz solos just bursting with organ invention. His riffs splitting musical atoms at any moment.  

His big-band arrangement of the lilting ‘Tennessee Waltz’ swung to the moon and back ala Ellington’s storied ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.’ DeFrancesco’s own composition ‘The Tackle’ just grabbed you by the ears and didn’t let go, its blazing horns and hard bop dynamic, with transcendent echoes of 40s big-band sonics, was DeFrancesco surfing the jazz time-space continuum.

At one point Stafford feigned jealousy that DeFrancesco was also an accomplished trumpet player, but another unexpected musical stunner was DeFrancesco picking up a saxophone playing the lead on the torch song “I’m a fool to want you.”  A microphone problem marred the opening bars, but DeFrancesco adjusted and conjured the song’s haunting allure.

Lucas Brown also entranced with Billy Strayhorn’s arrangement of the David Raskin-Johnny Mercer classic ‘Laura’ in a JOP transcription for its organ lead and sounding as blues noir as ever.

 Stafford and JOP basically play two fully curated concerts a year at the Kimmel, and in five years have covered so much ground.  Stafford taking every opportunity to keep the music of Philadelphia composer alive with pristine musicianship and freewheeling sessions.  JOP’s 18-players again proves a tight ensemble of virtuoso soloists, all of whom have their own bands and projects outside the big-band orchestra. JOP performs in late fall and late spring at the Kimmel Center and with each concert, new repertory for big- jazz band jazz, and celebrating Philadelphia’s rich jazz history.

The theme of this concert was “Get Organized” with the message of harmony in Shirley Scott’s tune ‘Blues Everywhere’ as their stirring encore, with Stafford introducing its interpretive message of peace and togetherness and the music was the message.

Philadelphia ,
Lewis Whittington writes about the performing and film arts for many publications. He is a renegade dance, theater and opera queen, a jazz-head and a civil activist.