Jason Kravits

(2017 – present)

Phil Orr & Jason Kravits
Phil & Jason at The Duplex

Joe’s Pub, July 27! We’ve all seen Jason at least once somewhere: TV & streaming series, film, B’way.  But you won’t really appreciate his depth and range until you see his one-man improv cabaret, Off the Top! It’s hard to describe the thrill and fear I have playing the show with him: the man is improvising a narrative 70 minutes of instantly made-up characters, story, melodies, and lyrics—simultaneously—from audience suggestions. What kind of mind is that?? Isn’t that NUTS?! My job is supporting him musically wherever he goes while remaining on the piano bench (and not wetting my pants). Riding that roller-coaster—loosely strapped with Phil Orr & More trio mates Michael O’Brien and Sean Dixon—is always amazing. 

Phil Orr & More

(2016 – present)

Phil Orr, Sean Dixon, and Michael O'Brien
Phil Orr, Sean Dixon, Michael O’Brien
Enjoying the scenery of each other's minds,
The bouquet of the interplay,
And the heat in the beat,
Whatever style we meet.

Triniece Robinson

(2015 – present)

Phil Orr, Matthew Parrish, Triniece Robinson, Darrell Green
Phil & Trineice with Matthew Parrish & Darrell Green

Go ahead and try to pin my very accomplished friend, Trineice Robinson, down. Staaartiiing… now!

Haha, you lose! It’s hardly a big loss, tho. She might be fulfilling Duke Ellington’s ideal, “Beyond Category.”

Which of these vocal styles most applies to Trineice: classical, jazz, R&B, or gospel?

The correct answer is Yes.

Now, which of these professional areas involves Trineice the most: pedagogy, journalism, leadership, or performance?

Again, the correct answer is Yes. Maybe this is why it took a little long-ish to get her wonderful 2021 debut album, All or Nothing, out.

She and I have played club dates, weddings, concerts, church services, live-streams, an album… the longer we’re at it, the more it’s like playing in the sandbox—it’s about the only time I like sand.

Steve Hiltner

(2005 – present)

Steve Hiltner and Phil Orr
Steve & Phil
Steve and I jammed on “Darn That Dream” at a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser in September 2005, and his post-bop clarinet-ing perked up my ears. We found ourselves a row apart the following spring at a Phil Woods-John Coates, Jr. duo concert, and began playing through Steve’s collection of tunes at social events and occasional gigs. Through periodic morphings into various assemblages of musicians under the umbrella moniker, Sustainable Jazz Ensemble, we developed a core duo sound around his tenor/alto/clarinet, and my orr-chestral piano arranging. Steve also composes for and directs the salsa-flavored Lunar Octet and, stemming [pun intended] from his degrees in botany and water quality, is equally absorbed in nature and environmental issues: as director of the Climate Cabaret, founder/president of Friends of Herrontown Woods, and observer/chronicler for Princeton Nature Notes. Steve’s original music frequently reflects his environmental concerns through ‘growing’ journeys in contrasting keys, grooves, and tempi, and in topical titles (“Greening the Blues,” “Funky River”). Our 2018 flower, Until I Find the Words, will be joined by a second bloom in ’23.

Jerry Rife

(1998 – present)

Jerry Rife (clarinet) & Phil Orr
Rhythm Kings (left, 2010), Cool Yule Jazz (right, 2007)

Jerry and I have been friends since I passed his musicology course in ’97. He afterwards called me to play some gigs with his Jerry Rife’s Rhythm Kings even though I didn’t then know anything about traditional jazz or its rep, being a crossover post-bop/swing/fusion player with an affinity for ragtime, but we liked one another and he larned me around the edges of swing and rag. We’ve played formally/informally, duos/small groups/big groups, outdoors/indoors, upstairs/downstairs, smoke-filled/smoke-free, four hours/four minutes… a lot. His long-standing Jerry Rife’s Rhythm Kings (plus me) held forth for 15 years in a packed-out annual “Dixieland Hymns & Spirituals” concert in Morrisville, PA, before moving to the historic 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing for an additional two years. We co-led the annual Cool Yule Jazz concert, opening the “Holidays at Westminster” (Westminster Choir College, Princeton) festival for 6 years with mates Norm Edge and Sean Dixon, and released a CD of those tunes, Cool Yule to You. Jerry always brings—the fun! Knows—a ton! Likes—a pun! Wouldn’t you find it interesting to know he’s a published authority on French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958)? Or that he is concert-master emeritus of the Virginia Grand Military Band? And that he has conducted The Blawenburg Band, one of America’s longest-lived, continuous (1890) community bands, for more than a quarter of its existence (since 1985)? Quite the interesting man.

Sandy Connolly

(1988 – present)

Sandy and Phil, in roughly chronological order: collegial church musicians & music leaders; collaborative art song partners; website designers; head-shot photographer/subject; gin consultants; life coaches–wayfarers–sounding boards; music publication consultants; music education consultants; agrostology teacher/student; goal goaders. We can sit side-by-side at a keyboard in August for an hour with video lights and no air-conditioning. We get along pretty well.

In Memoriam: Norman Edge

(1934 – 2018)

Norm Edge, Phil Orr, 2014

[2018] My mighty friend died this morning, June 4, after a brief medical struggle. Norman Edge loved life an awful lot: loved his family, his students, friends and colleagues of all stripes; loved music of several intense flavors; loved fishing. Those last two are my ordering, and what may actually have been true is open to debate. He read widely, thought about and consulted with authorities on several subjects involving science, philosophy, and history, and believed that music has power to heal and transform people and their relationships.

Norm and I performed together far less than we just talked at tables over food. This past winter/spring was the most concentrated time we’d ever managed since 2004, backing up Dr. Trineice Robinson-Martin, Houston Person, Warren Vaché, and Jerry Rife, with others planned for September.

The son and grandson of string musicians, he studied and collaborated with some of the world’s most renowned musicians: William Chartoff, Fred Zimmerman, and Gary Karr for bass studies; Paige Brook for flute; recordings with Hank Jones, Clark Terry, Gene Ammons, and Manhattan Brass Choir.  For 38 of their 53-year association, he performed six nights per week with his distinguished friend, the late pianist Morris Nanton, also recording seven albums as part of the Morris Nanton Trio.  During the decade of the 1970’s Norman introduced K-12 children to jazz, Renaissance, and string music through Project Moppet/Project Impact in his various roles as producer, director, performer, and emcee.  From 1970-1972 he was the music producer for the Sing, Spell, Read: Fun Indeed recorded phonics reading program. From 1983-2000 he taught strings and conducted both middle and high school orchestras in the Edison, N.J. school system.  An active orchestral performer, he performed with the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, and was principal bassist with Eastern Concert Opera Company, the Livingston Orchestra, and the Jersey City State Orchestra.

Although not a shy man, Norm was no braggart, telling stories of his successes reluctantly and modestly. Last winter after Gary Karr’s Princeton University recital, he told a small group somewhat bashfully that he called when Karr first moved to Plainfield, NJ a few decades ago to inquire about taking lessons. He was surprised that Gary answered the phone himself and when he splutteringly reported why he was calling, Karr replied, “YOU’RE Norman Edge?? Can we meet? Everybody is talking about you!” They had dinner for several hours and played a while afterwards, trading tricks.

A favorite memory is of packing our cars, Norm with his upright, me with my keyboard rig, at the end of an afternoon’s posh jazz reception in our formal attire. Driving out about ten minutes after him I found him standing beside his car parked just past the little bridge over the estate’s brook, still in his tux, getting into the waders he carried with him, eager to put his lined-up rod, reel and tackle to use in the golden hour. He was beaming.

All this and heaven, too.

In Memoriam: J. Seward Johnson II

(1930 – 2020)

Phil Orr and Seward JohnsonIn Oct 2013, I entered into the fairly aerobic pleasure of making music with Seward Johnson in weekly sing-alongs he initiated at the sculpture park he created, Grounds For Sculpture. These were public affairs, free of charge, and stemmed from the joy he felt in boyhood, gathered with family around his grandparents’ parlor piano. This joy in singing carried through his life in informal ways of everyday life, I learned, until the idea for a public sing-along struck him. People came from near and far for these happy hour “Sing Along with Sculpture” events, while park visitors from other states and other countries happened into them serendipitously. Everyone sat with everyone, very egalitarian, wherever there was a seat around the tables in the outdoor pavilion, waitstaff weaving in/out/between with food and drinks provided by Rat’s, the hosting restaurant. (“Rat’s,” after the Wind in the Willows character, not “Rats,” after the health inspector’s report.) Folks called out color-and-number pairs from the supplied songbooks’ tables of contents: “Blue 22!” someone would holler. “Blue 22 is what we’re going to do,” intoned Seward in reply, and we’d begin. Sometimes he’d tell a tale of this or that bit of his history, an association he made with a lyric, how such-and-such sculpture came to be; or don a wig and sing a funny solo, slip on his tap shoes for added percussion, draw his wife from her chair for an impromptu romantic dance. Sometimes individuals or even small groups would spontaneously join him up at the mic, such was the joie de vivre he exuded. Sometimes trained voices, singly or in ensemble, would join unseen from different corners of the room to harmonize or provide counterpoint unannounced. Friend and colleague Adam Weitz joined us in our second year as an emcee, comic foil, and occasional stand-in when Seward was traveling or otherwise occupied; but even if Seward was absent, the room and the hours were still all about him and the music he loved. I used the term ‘aerobic pleasure’ earlier regarding my playing because the piano accompaniment of 50-70 people singing unselfconsciously pretty much required ten fingers, molto force-o, across the 88 keys of the upright piano for two hours – I loved it.

I have many memories, of course, but my favorite “Seward singing” story is actually from his nephew, Michael, who with his wife shepherded Seward through his NYC cancer consultations. Michael has told a story of going to lunch at a midtown restaurant after an early doctor’s visit. While at their table, Seward leaned forward and spoke sotto voce, “I’m going to sing now,” and launched his deep baritone into an American songbook tune from 70-80 years ago. The full restaurant’s other guests responded to this a cappella outburst with a blend of amusement, bemusement, and Big Apple apathy. Seward, for his part, was pleased – more likely, exhilarated. As this scene repeated itself over succeeding weeks, he began receiving tips on his table from waiters with a murmured, “Thank you, Mr. Johnson.”

How do you keep the music playing, in your life, in your community, among communities? Maybe sing like Seward Johnson, wherever you find yourself.