Now a popular tradition marking Labor Day Weekend, the Mount Airy Cultural Center, Inc. (MACC) will sponsor the 21st Annual Tony Williams Scholarship Jazz Festival, taking place Friday, September 2 through Monday, September 5 at the Embassy Suites Airport, 9000 Bartram Avenue. The 2011 celebration of jazz and culture will be dedicated to the memory of Dr. Donald Clark, past president of the MACC board of directors, who passed away in April.
Honorees at this year’s festival include John Blake (violin), Tyrone Brown (bass), Tommy Campbell (drums), Curtis Warner (drums) and Larry McKenna (saxophone) as well as beloved saxophonist Odean Pope, founder of the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir.
“We were trying to respectfully show the musicians that are international, and that are truly Philadelphians — that have traveled the world from Philadelphia and made contributions,” said Anthony “Tony” Williams, founder and president of Mount Airy Cultural Center, Inc. “We have a lot of people here in Philadelphia that are great musicians, but these are the guys that have traveled all over the world and worked with outstanding artists.”
“It’s such a wonderful feeling,” Odean Pope said of the honor during a recent interview. “I’ve been knowing Tony for many years. To have somebody like Tony say, ‘Odean, I’m going to give you an award this coming year’ was something very special.”
Last March, the jazz community came together on Pope’s behalf, staging a benefit concert to raise awareness of bipolar disorder, a condition from which Pope has suffered for approximately 30 years.
“I had been sick from September of last year until that period, and just to have so many people come out, to me, it was something very special, because Tony, Bill Cosby, Sonia Sanchez, Kenny Barron — just a whole host of great musicians came out, and that was a very special night.”
Williams, a longtime friend and colleague, cites Pope as a unique and innovative artist saying, “He’s so individualistic that his particular character of his belief in the music comes out, and that’s what you hear. You hear his expression of what we should be aware of when we talk about jazz, and his personality, his ID, is completely his. I think it’s the human ear — whatever you’re subjected to, and whatever you get from that. I think maybe he might be subjecting you to one thing, but I think it’s important for the listener to react and say, ‘This is what I hear from what you played.’”
The 21st Annual Tony Williams Scholarship Jazz Festival will feature performances by Mike Boone, Walter Clark, Tommy Grice, Rob Henderson, Miss Justine, Craig McIver, Larry McKenna, Don Collins, Dick Morgan, Barbara Morrison, Dave Postmontier, Dr. Gregory Riley, Lee Smith, Asher Stein, Ronnie Waters, Tony Williams, Don Wilson, Phil Wright, Youth Groups and a special “Youth Ensemble.”
Philadelphia’s favorite son, comedian/actor Bill Cosby, is a regular at the festival, often “sitting in” on the drums during performances. This year he will be part of the Sunday evening lineup, performing an hour-long set with his Reunion Band.
The “family oriented” annual festival will feature jazz workshops, a vendor’s mall, jam sessions, a Meet & Greet reception and a Sunday worship service featuring the Tony Williams Quartet and griot Gregory Williams, in addition to a full roster of performances by local and international jazz artists. A key mission of the festival is to provide an opportunity for talented young musicians to meet, mingle with and be mentored by the legendary jazz giants who are in attendance.
“I think the Tony Williams Jazz Festival is so successful because first of all, Bill Cosby is one of his great supporters, and having somebody on board like Bill Cosby, you can only go up,” said Pope, who worked for many years with the legendary drummer Max Roach, and was a member of the Sam Reed Orchestra at Philadelphia’s historic Uptown Theater. He has also been a dedicated educator and mentor, working with the Philadelphia Model Cities program and Settlement Music School.
“Not only that, but you have so many people in Philadelphia that are giving him so much support. When he first started, just before he moved — when he had it over in New Jersey, he was at the church up on Germantown Avenue. I had gotten a grant to do an eight-week workshop there for some of his young people. So things like that — workshops and people coming in and trying to help him and support whatever he’s doing. I think that’s why it’s been so [well] supported.”
For information on the 21st Annual Tony Williams Scholarship Jazz Festival, call Verna Edwards, (215) 248-4415 or Thelma Anderson, (215) 753-0232. For accommodations call Embassy Suites Airport at (215) 365-4500. A complete schedule of performances and events is available at www.maccjazz.org.
Contact entertainment reporter Kimberly C. Roberts at (215) 893-5753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.