This project began as a way to celebrate the musical legacy of Philadelphia’s native son Jimmy Heath after his January 2020 passing, but it morphed into something grander—with many more Philly facets—along the way. Under the direction of Terell Stafford, these winners of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s inaugural Jack Rudin Jazz Championship have honored late tenor saxophonists Heath and Bootsie Barnes, B-3 player Shirley Scott, and revered Temple basketball coach John Chaney. Three contemporary Philly jazz greats—Joey DeFrancesco, Christian McBride, and Larry McKenna—are aboard. The organist and bassist are guest artists; McKenna, dean of the city’s tenor players, arranged one tune.
The Temple band’s crisp section work accentuates the beauty of “Passing the Torch,” which New York-based saxophonist Todd Bashore wrote to honor Heath, with whom he studied at Queens College. Heath wrote the title track, “Without You, No Me,” on a commission from Dizzy Gillespie. On this version, the horn sections’ shout choruses are effective transitions between solos by Banks Sapnar on trumpet, Dylan Band on tenor sax, and Anthony Aldissi on piano. Temple alumnus Jack Saint Clair wrote “Bootsie” to honor the late Bootsie Barnes; it spotlights guitarist Michael Raymond, trumpeter Sapnar, and saxophonist Band. Singer Danielle Dougherty is featured on “Please Don’t Talk About Me” and, later in the program, Saint Clair’s arrangement of Shirley Scott’s “The Blues Ain’t Nothin’ (But Some Pain).” The ensemble cushions her swinging, teasing vocals and natural sense of time. Trombonist Bill Saurman is a great foil for her vocals on “Please Don’t Talk About Me.”
DeFrancesco’s hard-driving and nimble B-3 mastery is on display on a Bill Cunliffe arrangement of the organist’s original tune “In That Order,” which also showcases the band’s fine drummer, Maria Marmarou. The band revisits the Heath songbook for “Voice of the Saxophone.” Sectional counterpoint on this pensive gem sets up an exquisite tenor solo from Dylan Band. McBride’s feature on “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” illuminates his great skill on the bass, shifting its role with ease from timekeeping to a serious melody instrument. The band’s student bassist, Nathan Pence, provides solid rhythmic support behind his solo.
McBride penned “The Wise Old Owl” in memory of Hall of Fame basketball coach John Chaney. This one features Pence on bass, Patrick Hill on alto sax, and Marmarou on drums; you can sing “He’s the Wise Old Owl” to its clever, repeating melody. DeFrancesco, McBride, and student trumpeter John Meko are featured on McKenna’s swinging arrangement of Juan Tizol’s classic “Perdido,” which brings things to a close. This tasty session was recorded last April at the spacious Temple Performing Arts Center with social distancing and Plexiglas dividers between the players, and filtered covers over the bells of the horns.