January 19, 2020, bears a bittersweet tinge in Terell Stafford’s memory. On one hand, Temple University’s Director of Jazz and Instrumental Studies recalls that day with a great deal of pride and celebration, as the Temple University Jazz Band took top honors in the inaugural Jack Rudin Jazz Championship at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
That same night, however, Stafford received the sad news that the legendary saxophonist Jimmy Heath had died at the age of 93. Since their days touring together with the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band, Stafford had been fortunate to call Heath a friend, a colleague, a mentor, and a confidante.
“Jimmy Heath was an incredible human being,” Stafford says. “When I got the phone call saying that he had just passed, I was totally devastated and broken. The next day I called Temple Dean Robert T. Stroker and said, ‘I hope we can find a way to honor Mr., Heath this year.’ So, we started to prepare some music -- and then the pandemic hit.”
Ah yes, that by now familiar refrain. At this writing, more than a year and a half later, January 2020 feels like a lifetime ago. The events of last year hardly bear repeating; no matter where you read these words and hear this music, the Covid-19 pandemic had its effect on your existence. It certainly disrupted the lives of the students and faculty at Temple, though the music, as always, found a way.
Thanks to the tenacity and ingenuity of Stafford and his colleagues, Without You, No Me is the second new album released by the Temple University Jazz Band in the wake of the pandemic. The first, the aptly titled Covid Sessions: A Social Call, was recorded long-distance, in student’s homes across the country, via the innovative portable sound rigs devised by Grammy and Emmy Award- winning recording engineer John Harris and Temple Music Technology Professor Dr. David Pasbrig.
Without You, No Me was captured at much closer range. The musicians were able to convene in the spacious confines of the Temple Performing Arts Center in April 2021, with filters and covers over the bells of the horn players and breaks every half hour for air exchange. The 12 feet of space and plexiglass dividers between them were less than optimal but still an improvement over the miles and days that had separated them on their previous outing. Harris and Pasbrig’s rigs were dusted off to facilitate this session’s special guests, bassist Christian McBride and organist Joey DeFrancesco.
Whatever the obstacles presented by these most unprecedented of circumstances, it was clearly worth it to honor an artist who has meant so much to the music and to the city of Philadelphia as well as to Temple University, its students, and its director. Along with his brothers, bassist Percy and drummer Albert “Tootie,” Jimmy Heath is Philly jazz royalty, a master saxophonist, composer, and bandleader who has contributed several tunes to the jazz canon, including “CTA,” “Gingerbread Boy,” and “For Minors Only.”
The title track of the present album, “Without You, No Me,” was originally commissioned by Dizzy Gillespie and named in the iconic trumpeter’s honor. Here it comes full circle, acknowledging the foundational influence that Jimmy Heath has had on generations of jazz musicians, Terell Stafford among them. Famous for his teasing, pun-happy nicknames, Heath christened the younger trumpeter “Staff Inflection.”
“He was almost like a father to me,” Stafford explains. “When I started at Temple, he was the first person I called. He gave me such great advice: ‘Just teach yourself,’ he said. ‘Teach who you are. Figure out what you do, how you do it and teach that. And that will be what the students will need.’ He would constantly call to check on the students and came to the school whenever he could to conduct master classes and give concerts at Temple.”
In the same spirit Todd Bashore, a former student of Mr. Heath’s at Queens College, composed album opener “Passing of the Torch” in honor of his mentor. Heath’s compositional gifts are further represented by “The Voice of the Saxophone,” rendered in lush and vibrant hues by this stellar ensemble.
Tragically, Jimmy Heath was not the only loss that Philadelphia endured over the past year. The great tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes, a linchpin of the Philly jazz scene, passed in April at the age of 82. The young saxophonist and bandleader Jack Saint Clair, a Temple alumnus, composed the rollicking “Bootsie” in Barnes’ honor, its muscular yet relaxed swing offering a knowing portrait of the wryly laconic jazzman.
Saint Clair also contributes a brassy rendition of the standard “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” and a sultry arrangement of a piece from another Philly jazz giant, organist Shirley Scott, with whom Bootsie shared the stage many times. Both tracks showcase the clarion vocals of Danielle Dougherty while Scott’s “The Blues Ain’t Nothin’ (But Some Pain)” encourages the band to dig deep into their own blues to capture the tune’s sense of heartache and remorse.
Hall of Fame basketball coach John Chaney, who led Temple to 17 NCAA tournaments during his 24 seasons at the University, was another icon in the city whose influence reached far beyond the court. The night he died in January; Christian McBride called Stafford to suggest an homage to Chaney. The bass great composed “The Wise Old Owl,” inspired by the school’s avian mascot as well as the coach’s reputation as a sage counselor to so many of his students. The tune unfolds with a nail-biting dramatic arc that vividly conveys Chaney’s grace under pressure, an elegant demeanor that suddenly erupts into kinetic action.
McBride lends his robust voice to John Clayton’s vigorous arrangement of the classic “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” engaging in a spirited dialogue between his nimble, eloquent bass and the joyous ensemble. To close the album, he’s reunited with lifelong friend Joey DeFrancesco (albeit remotely) for a brisk romp through living legend saxophonist Larry McKenna’s arrangement of Juan Tizol’s “Perdido,” which prompts blistering turns from both virtuosic Philly natives. DeFrancesco’s jaw-dropping organ skills are on full display on his own “In That Order,” which the great pianist Bill Cunliffe arranged for the occasion.
The title Without You, No Me acknowledges a debt to the past, one that is paid by keeping memories alive. While it’s safe to say that much about this album falls under the category of the unforgettable – recorded during an unforgettable period in history, undertaken in honor of some of the city and the music’s most unforgettable visionaries – it nonetheless repays that debt with dazzling enthusiasm and gratitude. As Jimmy Heath once wrote about his relationship to Dizzy Gillespie, the experience is “like being on a musical mountaintop or hitting a high note.”
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Without You No Me
Record Label: BCM&D Records
Release Date: September 10, 2021