[Photo by HOWARD PITKOW]
BY ZIVIT SHLANK Saxophonist, composer and educator Wade Dean is a true gem of the Philadelphia jazz scene. His passionate improvisations and scholarly, yet, youthful exuberance has and continues to be praised by both audiences and his musical peers. Born and raised in Orangeburg, South Carolina, he was always around music. His mother was a pianist in the local churches. His uncle is a baritone saxophonist who plays in the Count Basie Orchestra, the last musician hired by Basie himself. He earned his Bachelor’s in Music Education from the University of South Carolina, and then moved onto to Philly in 2005 to pursue his Masters at the U of Arts under the tutelage of Ben Schachter. Upon arriving he made it a point to hit up all the jam sessions, to absorb and learn as much as possible. Shortly after, he got offered the job of Director of Jazz at the University of Pennsylvania. Dean’s group, The Enspiration, have been making their presence known with their soulful original compositions and scintillating interpretations of classic jazz repertoire. Dean and Co. will be recording their first CD live at Chris’ Jazz Café Tonight at 7pm. Phawker recently hung out with Wade in Rittenhouse Park.
PHAWKER: Why Jazz? What ignited that flame?
WADE DEAN: I’ve been asking myself that question a lot, especially lately with how the scene has been changing. You gotta always go back to that first record. And for me, that first record was Grover Washington Jr’s Soul Box. My father owns a record store called “George’s Wigs and Wax”. The family business is still going strong selling men’s clothing and records. I remember when I was in middle school playing saxophone in the band, I began to explore music, and I pulled out Soul Box at random from my Dad’s collection. The album had a Bob James arrangement of “Don’t Explain”. That was my “whooooa” moment. That’s when I said “okay, I’m gonna pursue this”…and here I am doing it, teaching and performing.
PHAWKER: Speaking of Grover, there’s another Philadelphia saxophonist with whom you have a “divine” connection.
WADE DEAN:I remember being new to Philadelphia; I was a student at U of Arts. I’d walk to Chris’, Dowlings, hit up the jam sessions. The first time I walked into Ortliebs, I remember seeing this immaculately dressed dude walk by. I didn’t know who he was, but I recognized him. Prior to that I had spent some time in LA and I went to this club called Jazz Bakery. Saw Nicholas Peyton’s Sonic Trance. The saxophonist put me in another headspace. My first thought was “he’s got a nice suit on” but damn, he was playing the mess out of this saxophone. I spent all night in my hotel room practicing after that performance. So fast forward to Ortliebs, the dude walking past me, it was Tim Warfield! It was then that I realized that I was meant to be here in Philadelphia.
PHAWKER: What was the inspiration behind the “Enspiration”? Also, what’s the deal w/ the misspelling?
WADE DEAN: Ok, first off, the reason why I put the ‘E’ there was so that I could get people’s attention. I understand how the game works, you want people to ask a question, be curious. I first started the group when I was getting my Masters and we had to do a recital. So after I graduated, I still wanted to keep the band and get into the club scene. Some members of the original group stuck around, but I needed a new bassist and drummer. There was this kid at U of Arts who was scaring people, he was so good, Anwar Marshall. First time I heard Jason Fraticelli, I was like “wooow” I didn’t know the bass could do that! He really brings people in. Eventually we brought in saxophonist Adam Siegel. I realized then that it was unusual to have a group led by 3 saxophonists, but it worked because we all think alike musically. We allow ourselves to relax in the moment, and not force anything. That’s why the Wade Dean Enspiration exists: it’s the purest interpretation of what music does to me through the embodiment of 6 extremely talented gentlemen.
PHAWKER: “Enspired” by that feeling, what kind of sound are you trying to achieve?
WADE DEAN:In the simplest terms its just good damn music. Now what is that? I’ve always wanted to somehow connect to the audience. The sound that I’m pursuing with the band is that of continued difference. Whereas each moment we find ourselves in, we are interpreting that moment through the music. We are there not only to entertain, but we are also there to participate in a dialogue. Think of it abstractly: you’re in a club, at a festival or participating in a master class, ebb and flow is happening. I think of a performance Aretha Franklin did Live at the Fillmore West, and she said something to the audience that made perfect sense to me. At the beginning of her set she said “We want you to lend us your soul. We promise you at the end of this show, you will walk away with it two fold.” She’s saying let us hold your energy and we’re gonna return back twice as much as what you’ve given us. That doesn’t always happen but when it does, it’s the most heavenly experience. You walk away feeling numb yet excited, euphoric asking yourself “What just happened?” but you’re not sure; but you know you wanna be in that moment again.
PHAWKER: After many years of hard work, you’re finally on the precipice of recording your first CD as a group before a live audience this Friday at Chris’s Jazz Café! What finally got you to that point?
WADE DEAN: At first, my biggest fear was money. How do you pay for this, make sure my guys are taken care of? Then I started thinking creatively. When we perform live, our sound is crazy, the audience response has always been great. So the idea is to capture that. I have nothing to lose now. Then came the anxiety “Oh is this going to sound right?” “I’m gonna have something out there for people to criticize.” I got over that real quick because that’s just life. I can only give 400%. And hopefully, based on our history, that will be deemed enough. I’m excited now we’re really going to do this. I’m really eager to see what’s going to happen. This is real new for me. The audience at Chris’ tonight is going to get an experience. What that experience is I don’t know! I know they’re gonna see 6 guys on stage giving it their all. I hope that audience is ready to participate in a dialogue. I hope they come w/ something to say because we’re gonna have a lot to offer, a lot on our minds and we want to share that with you.
Wade Dean Enspiration plays Chris’ Jazz Cafe tonight at 8 PM