The Wize Guys with Ben Odom to play Jazz on Jay on June 23rd

This group of performing veterans unites for special occasions “to spread musical love and make peoples’ hearts smile,” as leader Ben Odom explains.

Odom started early and stayed with it.

He first sang on stage at three with the Odom Singers, alongside his parents and older sisters. When they opened for the Soul Stirrers, four-year-old Ben was so dazzled by Arthur Crume’s red guitar that his father bought him a red plastic guitar of his own.

Soon, Odom joined the Soul Stirrers himself and has played with the Chicago-based Gospel group for 46 years – longer than former members Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls and Johnny Taylor, combined.

Odom has also played with the Gospel group Blind Boys of Alabama, including “Talkin’ Christmas,” a holiday album with Taj Mahal. “I’ve been blessed,” says Odom of making music in elite company, adding that his Soul Stirrers will resume touring when COVID subsides.

Without formal training, Odom learned music from the ground up, so to speak.

“When I was a kid, my father had lots of records in the basement and I’d listen and learn,” says Odom. Early on, he loved the jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. “Their harmonies were a great influence on developing my ear. As a kid, my influences also included (soul-pop giants) Donny Hathaway, and Earth, Wind and Fire.” More recently, he came to admire the jazz vocal group Take Six.

While “music is always full-time,” Odom has also worked as a teaching assistant – academics, not music – both in Chicago and Colonie, where he was born and returned a decade ago.

Odom met Jazz on Jay chair and host Betsy Sandberg here at a performance by musician friends. She assured him the series was open to “more than jazz,” including the soul, pop, R&B and Gospel he has played for decades.

At Jazz on Jay, the Wize Guys will play half instrumentals, half vocal numbers.

The Wize Guys are Odom, bass and vocals; Azzaam Hameed, keyboards; Crick Diefendorf, guitar; Kyle Moreen, saxophones; and Jack Kelley, drums. All but Moreen also sing. As a special guest, Hameed’s young protege Matthias Taylor will sit in on piano with the Wize Guys.

As with teaching, Odom considers helping young players his way to “pay it forward.”

Jazz on Jay show time is noon where Jay Street meets State Street. Rain site: Robb Alley at Proctors adjacent to Apostrophe. Free.

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