Personalities album cover featuring man in blue suit and classes holding saxophone while sitting in front of a brown upright piano


Chris Oatts Group featuring Terell Stafford

In a time when I was not able to make music with my community in the ways I was accustomed, I was lucky to have time and security during the pandemic to revisit things that previously brought me joy and find entertainment in my new day to day. I saw how I changed throughout my life by reminiscing on beloved adolescent hobbies and some of my first forays into composing while writing these tunes, and with this kind of reminiscing, you can pinpoint the personalities contained within a person’s lifetime—from birth to the human you are today. Through six new compositions and four new arrangements, Personalities pays homage to finding exceptional beauty and love in an otherwise ordinary environment.

Capturing the warbles of the small birds who live in the alley outside our apartment, I groggily wrote “Alley Birds” at 7:00am, when the birds are at their loudest. It opens with an enduring bassline as if some are saying “Alley Birds” again and again, while the melody, played by me on soprano sax and Terell Stafford on trumpet, flies above the rhythm section.

With extra time on my hands during the pandemic, I revisited some of my favorite movies from my childhood such as Enter the Dragon. While the plot of the movie did not endure with me, the opening stuck in my memory, inspiring the spacious yet rhythmically driving pulse of “Dragon Night,” with a tune that straddles between mischievous and nefarious, as it is based on the tritone or the “devil’s interval.”

A few years ago, I wrote a composition called “Bilding Blocks” for trumpeter Elliot Bild, which at the time I thought was a very clever title. As “Building Blocks,” it’s now less of a play on words, but the pandemic gave me time to revisit tunes I wrote years earlier and reorchestrate them for new ensembles.

I loved having a multigenerational group for this session. My arrangement of “Shade of Jade” gives space for jazz icon Terell Stafford and up-and-coming Chris Lewis to showcase their creativity, recorded with only one take in the studio.

I wrote “Jean’s Scene” for the wonderful woman with whom I cohabitated and grew closer to during the pandemic. Jean is the love of my life and spending so much time locked inside with her confirmed what I already knew: I want to spend the rest of my life with her.

The intimate tune of “Bewitched” was made famous by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and it’s interesting to take something so lovely and see it in a vastly different light. In my arrangement, this classic standard is transformed with an angry, Afro-Cuban introduction.

It is so meaningful to continue Philadelphia’s genre-defining legacy of jazz musicians through a quintet made entirely of Philly-educated and based musicians. Even though the title “Philly Smash Tune” is tongue-in-cheek, it pays homage to our city and to great hard-nosed swing/Latin tunes in F.

I don’t know if I believe in guilty pleasures, but if I did, “Not While I’m Around” would be one of mine. My arrangement of Sondheim’s hauntingly beautiful melody for nonet, featuring Terell, is the most orchestral tune on Personalities. I always loved the drama of a Broadway melody.

When Jean refused to adopt a dog, we adopted our first cat, Prince, who captured my heart with his clumsy strut and swinging belly. I couldn’t help but feel inspired to write a blues in five, honoring my “Sweet Prince” and this new aspect of my personality.

Like my arrangement of “Bewitched,” this treatment of “Personality” takes a new perspective on an old standard through disjointed and chaotic melody paired with flowing solos from myself and Terell. Each snippet of melody traded back and forth takes on its own characteristics, giving this track multiple personalities.

--Notes by Chris Oatts and Jean Murphy

Thank You
Projects like these are made possible only through the collaboration and support of so many individuals. Thank you, Michael Richelle from Rittenhouse Soundworks in Germantown, Philadelphia, PA, for an amazing recording session with musicians Terell Stafford, Tim Brey, Sam Harris, Anwar Marshall, Chris Lewis, Josh Lee, Jon Shaw and Nick Lombardelli. Agnes Sophie Dallas Irwin Foundation provided funding to support that session and without them, this album wouldn’t be possible. I would be remiss to not mention the faculty and staff of Boyer College of Music and Dance, particularly Dean Robert Stoker, David Pasbrig and Terell Stafford, for providing guidance and support throughout this process.

And finally, thank you to my friends, family and fiancée, Jean Murphy, for loving me during the duration of this project and beyond.

--Chris Oatts

Stream and Download

Personalities is available for streaming and download on all major platforms.


Chris Oatts, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute
Terell Stafford, trumpet
Tim Brey, piano
Sam Harris, bass
Anwar Marshall, drums
Chris Lewis, tenor saxophone, clarinet
Josh Lee, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Jon Shaw, trumpet
Nick Lombardelli, trombone

Recorded at Rittenhouse Soundworks, Germantown, Philadelphia on July 20 and 21, 2021
Recording and Mixing Engineer: Michael Richelle
Mastering Engineer: David Pasbrig
Design: Pao Navarro

Support for the recording was provided by the Agnes Sophie Dallas Irwin Foundation.

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