Progressions: An Introduction…
In October of 2019, composer-saxophonist Odean Pope led a rousing standing room-only concert at LaRose Jazz Club in North Philadelphia, culminating his Pew Center-funded project Sounds of the Circle (SotC), a multidimensional platform for celebrating the collective genius of jazz artists in North Philly in the 1950s-70s, and the impact of that period on his own musical aesthetic and career. Stoked by the energy and outputs of SotC, he was looking forward to a busy year of performances, residencies and workshops in 2020. Then came COVID.
Undeterred by shutdowns and isolation, Odean considered other strategies for extending the bounty of SotC’s year of creative activities, which includes Progressions, a poem written for the project by jazz poet and literary scholar Herman Beavers. The COVID hibernation made time for launching an initiative to interpret Progressions—a union of 12 sonnets, with sonnets nos. 2-11 purposefully recasting the words, phrases and meanings of sonnet no. 1—through jazz composition.
In 2021 Odean invited saxophonist-composer Immanuel Wilkins, whom Odean first taught 15 years ago when Wilkins was a 9-year-old prodigy in a Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz workshop, to collaborate with him on a project that has come to be called ReSounding Progressions. The project is grounded in forging a true collaboration between two accomplished Philly-bred composer-musicians, separated in age by 60 years, to create music that is inspired by and animates a distinctive work of jazz-inflected poetry.
Having recently garnered a Jazz Road Creative Residencies grant from SouthArts, ReSounding Progressions is now engaged in a dynamic discovery process, with Odean and Immanuel probing the potential in their collaboration and the provocations of the literature. Over three days in December 2021, they worked intensively with one another and with Beavers to understand the intentions behind the poem—to grasp Beavers’ aims and strategies for disrupting the Western canon with it—and to explore how those ideas might be interpreted in musical composition.
Together they envisioned a 14-member bespoke ensemble, which will gather for a multi-day workshop in April 2022. A third phase of the Jazz Road residency is planned for June 2022; local musicians will be invited to observe and participate in the discovery process.
No date is set for the premier presentation of Resounding Progressions. Both artists are committed to giving the project the time it needs to evolve and blossom.
Ars Nova Workshop, with WRTI at Temple University, is an essential supporter of the Pope/Wilkins collaboration. They are providing key operational and administrative infrastructure for the Jazz Road residency, as well as generating performance opportunities for Pope and Wilkins to merge their genius alongside the ReSounding project, such as in free-improvisation performances at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville TN and in Philadelphia in late-March.