Blindfold Test: Tim Warfield


“Nicholas Payton is brilliant,” Tim Warfield said during his live Blindfold Test at Temple University. “He’s never ceased to surprise or amaze me. He’s a bad dude.”

(Photo: Steve Stoltzfus)

Saxophonist Tim Warfield doesn’t actually hail from Philadelphia — his roots are a couple of hours west, in York, Pennsylvania — but the city has been one of his musical homes throughout his career. He honed his skills alongside frequent collaborator Terell Stafford at Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, which ushered him into the band of organ great Shirley Scott. Warfield’s first-ever Blindfold Test was also Philly’s first, hosted by Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance, where Warfield is a longtime member of the faculty. “We’ll see if I’m up to the challenge,” Warfield said at the outset, in front of an audience of students and the public. He granted a 5-star rating across the board, saying, “This is a lifestyle; it’s a belief system. It’s art, which is very challenging, and it takes a lot of energy. You have to believe in what you do, put it out there and not be afraid to be vulnerable. So from that premise alone, I’ll give 5 stars to everybody.”

Jeremy Pelt

“Backroad” (Men Of Honor, HighNote, 2010) Pelt, trumpet; JD Allen, tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett, piano; Dwayne Burno, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums.

I’m going to make an educated guess based on stuff I listen to in trying to understand how people play. JD Allen has a really distinct way that he plays time as well as a melodic approach. JD is one of those young people that I actually can identify pretty well. It sounds like he spent a lot of time being very particular about [the elements] he wanted to be a part of his improvisational aesthetic as well as his artistic aesthetic.

Melissa Aldana

“Alegria” (Back Home, Wommusic, 2016) Aldana, tenor saxophone; Pablo Menares, bass; Jochen Rueckert, drums.

It’s one of two people. I’m going to say Melissa Aldana. This has shades of the Fly trio with Mark Turner, but I grew up with Mark Turner. We’re from a similar era, so I’ve heard his music a lot. I really admire his playing, and I know that Melissa’s influenced by him, but she has a lot of her own sonic identifiers. She has a very specific way she likes to bend notes, even in her melodies. I’m not a big social media person, but she posted herself playing “Body And Soul,” and I found her choice of inflections to play the melody interesting. We’re at a point in jazz music where it seems as if proficiency is the highest part of the value system, but it can’t just be that. It has to be about our art, and she certainly has that.

George Coleman

“Lo-Joe” (Amsterdam After Dark, Timeless, 1979) Coleman, tenor saxophone; Hilton Ruiz, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.

I don’t know if it’s the recording or this room, but his tone sounded a little bit more harsh than what I’m normally used to hearing. But judging off the content, melodies that I heard, I’m guessing Eric Alexander? George Coleman? Well, Eric was kind of an understudy. I’ve had a chance to play with George. He was nice enough to let me sit in with him on the bandstand. I’m the artistic director and on the board of the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz, and one of the reasons is that I was a little kid that they championed. So I got a chance to meet a lot of jazz musicians before I got to college, and George was one of them. Later on, when I first started to come here to Philly, I got an opportunity to work with Shirley Scott on a very regular basis, and I performed with George at the Mellon Jazz Festival down on the waterfront. George Coleman is one of the people that I use as an example. Every generation has their own sonic culture in terms of how they manage through harmony. What he does is a very a very informed and specific thing, and watching him and Shirley do it together, it was like breathing.

Dexter Gordon

“Jumpin’ Blues” (American Classic, Elektra, 1982) Gordon, tenor saxophone; Grover Washington Jr., soprano saxophone; Shirley Scott, organ; Eddie Gladden, drums.

I have this record. It’s Dexter Gordon, Shirley Scott and Grover Washington Jr. I’ve listened to this record over and over. I went through a big Dexter phase. Dexter Gordon was probably the first personality — probably for a lot of saxophone players — that I tried to, try to, copy. When I finally got an opportunity to hear him live, I realized how unsuccessful I was. His sound is so huge. He’s huge! The way that he leans on the beat, I was able to do that, and I learned a lot about time, where you can play on the beat, on top of the beat or behind the beat. That’s a really important component to factor in when you choose personalities for your band: how they play the beat. I got that from Dexter.

James Brandon Lewis

“A Lotus Speaks” (Molecular, Intakt, 2020) Lewis, tenor saxophone; Aruán Ortiz, piano; Brad Jones, bass; Chad Taylor, drums.

Believe it or not, this is the most difficult for me. Their tone was so robust that it reminded me of one person. But the aesthetic itself, what they chose to chose to play and the time signatures, make me think it’s another person. I’m not as versed with this other person. The way that they played in in the upper register, particularly when it got intense, reminded me of James Brandon Lewis. I’ve just started listening to him because I’ve been hearing his name, and I really do try to keep up on who’s doing what. He’s something else. He really has a frequency.

Al Foster

“Pent-Up House” (Reflections, Smoke Sessions, 2022) Foster, drums; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Kevin Hays, piano; Vicente Archer, bass.

I think Nicholas sent me this when it first came out. This is with Al Foster and Chris Potter. Chris plays the full range of the instrument and beyond, and he plays it with a certain vigor. He’s an amazing saxophone player, for sure. I remember he was so unassuming at the Thelonious Monk Competition, but when he would play it was really beautiful. [Nicholas Payton is] my brother from another. I’ve got two trumpet brothers, Terell Stafford and Nicholas Payton. Nicholas is brilliant. He’s never ceased to surprise or amaze me. He’s a bad dude. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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