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Jon Faddis

There has been a guiding light in Jon Faddis' musical career: Dizzy Gillespie. So much so that most listeners can his Gillespie's unmistakable influence on Faddis' style. Very few trumpeters can play Gillespie's works with the same degree of articulation, range and fire. But Faddis can. Having met Gillespie when he was but 12 years old, Faddis was with him when he died as well.

If you talk to other musicians who have played with Gillespie, you find that his influence on all of his friends was the same--an indefinable feeling of kinship and spirit that remained with them throughout their lives.

Faddis did something about that influence. He and bassist John Lee formed the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars to "spread the World Of Gillespie." In fact, that group's second CD was named Dizzy's World, a tribute to Gillespie's absorption of spiritual and musical influences from around the world, starting with his work in the 1940's with Chano Pozo.

Now, Faddis is proud to have assembled a big band to play some of the original Gillespie charts. He's especially proud of the fact that the band, which can be heard on the Telarc's CD Things To Come, includes some legendary musicians who performed with Gillespie in the 1940's and 1950's, such as James Moody, Jimmy Heath and Frank Wess.

Here's what Faddis has to say about the new CD...and about Dizzy Gillespie.

JazzReview: Is Things To Come the first CD of the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Band?

Jon Faddis: In big band form, yes, it is. We started doing a few gigs as a big band in 1998, and things started to come to fruition when we secured a couple of weeks at the Blue Note in New York City. Also, the small group, the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars, played a week there too. So, the Alumni Big Band has been playing for approximately four years. This past December through New Year's, we sold out every night at the Blue Note in Tokyo. In New York's Blue Note, there's a great response too.

This CD was a labor of love and a chance to work with a lot of great musicians performing Dizzy's music. The personnel in the Alumni Big Band vary. We try to get people like Jimmy Heath, James Moody or Slide Hampton, but sometimes they have their own gigs with their own bands. We count ourselves as very fortunate if they can play with the Alumni Big Band.

The CD was recorded at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh because they have a beautiful concert hall and excellent recording facilities. Two of our Alumni Big Band members, Marty and Jay Ashby, are on the board of the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. The Guild does a lot of positive things for the community, and it trains a lot of young musicians. So, the Alumni Big Band booked a gig at the Guild in Pittsburgh for four or five days with the idea of making a live recording so that the proceeds could go to MCG.

Most of the Alumni Big Band's arrangements are those that were played by Dizzy and passed on to us. The arrangements for "Things To Come," "Manteca," "'Round Midnight," "Jessica's Day," "Stablemates" and "Lover Come Back To Me" are the originals. They're from Dizzy's library. John Lee, the program director and bassist, handles preserving the arrangements.

JazzReview: How did you and John Lee start the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars?

Jon Faddis: Well, first of all, we all loved Dizzy, and we were looking for ways to continue his legacy. We played with Dizzy for decades, and even though he passed in January of 1993, it still feels as though he is very much with us. Also, Dizzy's music is very challenging; it's not easy to play it right. So, whenever people wanted to hear Diz's music, they would usually call me or John Lee or a couple of other key people to do it. It evolved from there. John Lee and I also want to be sure that the next generation of cats in their twenties and early thirties have a chance to learn directly from people who had learned directly from Diz.

JazzReview: Is it harder to get the Alumni Big Band together than the smaller group, the Alumni All-Stars?

Jon Faddis: Yes, but only for logistical reasons. The musicians love to play with the Alumni Big Band, and they all try to arrange their schedules in order to play with the band.

JazzReview: What accounts for the inspiration that all of the musicians have received from Dizzy?

Jon Faddis: First of all, it has to do with the type of person Dizzy was. When I was a young trumpet player and had first met Dizzy, he was never anything less than supportive, encouraging and proud. The same thing happened with James Moody in the forties. He remembers things that Dizzy told him back then, and he tells me that he is just beginning to understand them. That's an example of Dizzy's depth and influence, as well as an example of why musicians love to play his music. Then, there are Dizzy's musical ideas. The jazz world is still trying to catch up to what Diz, Bird, Bud, Monk, Klook and others were doing musically.

With Dizzy, there was no difference between his humanity and his music. The music of other artists may be accessible, but they may not be as accessible as a person. Jimmy Heath says that Diz was the most accessible genius that he has ever met. Diz was always available. That accessibility, especially to our youth, is very important to all of us in the Alumni Big Band. It's something that we try to continue.

JazzReview: Dizzy's 80th Birthday Party! was dedicated to his humanity.

Jon Faddis: That CD was fun to make. I mean, we've recorded three All-Stars CD's, and all of them have been fun, actually. We have some of the same tunes on the 80th Birthday CD and the Alumni Big Band CD, such as "A Night In Tunisia" and "Manteca," but they are very different versions.

JazzReview: Didn't Dizzy struggle to keep together his big bands?

Jon Faddis: Yes, and the liner notes by Phil Schaap detail some of this. At the end of the 1940's, all of the big bands were having a difficult time. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy...tough times for big band. A few years later, with the help of the U.S. State Department, Dizzy was able to perform another big band. This group included Benny Golson and Quincy Jones; we play some of their arrangements on this new recording. After the State Department Big Band folded, Dizzy played with big bands only occasionally. In the early sixties, Diz recorded Lalo Schifrin's magnificent "Gillespiani" and "The New Continent," as well as J.J. Johnson's "Perceptions." But these weren't really touring big bands. In 1968, Dizzy got together another big band and toured Europe. That big band included Curtis Fuller, Cecil Payne, Jimmy Owens, James Moody and Curtis Fuller.

Also, I put together a couple of big bands for Dizzy in the eighties. It's funny; a lot of people don't realize that I was the musical director for Dizzy's United Nation Orchestra for years. I eventually told Dizzy, "I think it's about time I concentrated on developing my own style." Dizzy just looked at me and said, "It's about time."

The U.N. Band went on tour, recorded a video, did a CD and got a Grammy award. After that, all of my work as a musical director has been sort of overlooked.

JazzReview: You said that you wanted to develop your own style. Was it a problem doing that when Dizzy had such a large influence on you?

Jon Faddis: Of course. Yet, I also believe more trumpeters should be lucky enough to have such problems! If I had it to do over, I wouldn't change a thing. By the time I really focused on developing my own style, I had been playing with Dizzy for eighteen or nineteen years. I first played with him when I was fifteen at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. So, Dizzy's inspiration was and still is a large part of me. It gave me a huge foundation. By the same token, I sound more like Jon Faddis now.

JazzReview: Didn't you first meet Dizzy at Basin Street West?

Jon Faddis: Exactly. I was about twelve at the time. My parents took me there. Basin Street West was a supper club that allowed minors. When Diz walked by our table, my father said, "Hey, Diz, this is my boy. He really digs you. He's a young trumpet player." But I sat there frozen. I was too scared to say anything to Dizzy!

Three years later, I met Dizzy at Monterey, and that was it for me. He autographed all of my Dizzy Gillespie records. I had about fifty of them! Not long after that, I got a chance to play with Diz at the Jazz Workshop. That's when I knew I wanted to be a musician.

JazzReview: What did you play with him?

Jon Faddis: We played two tunes. Actually, the first thing I played from the audience. It was the ending to "A Night In Tunisia" while Dizzy was on the bandstand. Then he invited me up on stage, and we played "Satin Doll." After that, we played a song from one of his albums that had just been released. The album was called The Melody Lingers On, and the song was called "Get That Money Blues." It's a tune by Jimmy Owens that Dizzy was playing at that time. However, that song has been incorrectly titled in a lot of publications, including jazz encyclopedias. Some of those publications call it "Get That Moody Blues." Anyway, I had memorized Dizzy's solo from the record and played it that night. That was the first time I met James Moody. The other group members were Mike Longo, Jymie Merritt and Candy Finch.

I wrote to Dizzy after that, but the address that was in The Encyclopedia Of Jazz was outdated. I had no contact with Dizzy for two-and-a-half years. After I graduated from high school, I joined Lionel Hampton's band.

JazzReview: How did Lionel Hampton find out about you?

Jon Faddis: My trumpet teacher, Bill Catalano, met him in a coffee shop and said, "I've got a trumpet player you've got to hear." They arranged an audition for me, and I made it. That got me to New York.

JazzReview: What did your parents think about you moving to New York at the age of eighteen?

Jon Faddis: I think they were afraid and excited. I didn't move directly to New York. When I left San Francisco in July of 1971, I joined Lionel Hampton's band in Dallas, and then we went on the road. I think my parents expected me to return. But when I got to New York, that was it.

I was excited to be playing my horn and having a chance to meet my musical heroes--Dizzy, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Gil Evans, Benny Carter and Mingus. Also, I got to meet a lot of great trumpet players like Clark Terry, Snooky Young, Thad Jones, Ernie Royal, Joe Newman, Lew Soloff, "Sweets" Edison and many many others.

The following January, in 1972, Dizzy was playing two weeks at the Village Vanguard. He had Mickey Roker on drums, Alex Blake on bass, Mike Longo on piano and Al Gafa on guitar. I wasn't going to miss one night of that engagement. I had already been subbing with Thad Jones's and Mel Lewis's big band at the Vanguard. I took my horn every night of Dizzy's gig there. He remembered me and invited me to sit in.

JazzReview: You were with Dizzy when he died.

Jon Faddis: I was there with James Moody, Jacques Muyal, Jacques' son, John Motley and the nurse. I was on my way to San Antonio, Texas that day, and I stopped by the hospital. I had committed to the IAJE convention, and everyone felt that it was important for me to be there for the kids. I missed a flight because I was late to the airport. So, I got on another flight. I maintained my commitments, but taking that flight to Texas was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life.

There were two services. One was a smaller, family-oriented service. The other, larger service was at St. John The Divine. I played at the larger memorial service, along with a lot of other musicians. But the producers of the memorial were playing politics at the service. That really hurt me. Dizzy and I were very close, and his passing is something that has stayed with me since then.

JazzReview: You worked with Ellington?

Jon Faddis: Yes, and it was challenging. I didn't have much contact personally with Ellington. I had met Money Johnson, who was playing trumpet in his band, and he arranged for me to be on the session with Duke. Anyway, we were recording a tune, and I was kind of getting it together on the first take. Then Duke said, "That's it!"

Not long after that, I got a call to join Duke's band, but the call didn't come directly from him. I had just started to play with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra, which I loved too. At the time, I don't think I was aware of the opportunity that was presenting itself--the opportunity to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra--and I turned it down.

JazzReview: You became a studio musician at the end of the seventies.

Jon Faddis: I was married at the time to my first wife, and there was pressure to stay home. The money was very good for a young musician. I played on records for Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Kool And The Gang, Billy Joel, Ashford and Simpson, Paul Simon and many others. Also, I played music for radio and television commercials.

JazzReview: Did you play any famous solos on a pop recording, like Phil Woods's on "Just The Way You Are?"

Jon Faddis: There was the fanfare for the movie The Wiz for Quincy Jones. I also played a piccolo trumpet solo on Barry Manilow's recording of "I Write The Songs." And I played the high notes on "Y.M.C.A." by the Village People. I did lots of things like that.

JazzReview: Didn't Dizzy bring you back into jazz with the White House performance?

Jon Faddis: Actually, during the time that I was doing studio work, I was always sitting in with Dizzy. The studio work was winding down at that time, and I think that it was a good decision on my part to start my own group, which included James Williams and Greg Osby. In the studios, many of the producers started to use electronics instead of real musicians. Other musicians like Randy Brecker and Lew Soloff had been doing a lot of studio work too. So we all started doing other things that were more musically interesting and important to us.

JazzReview: How did you form the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band?

Jon Faddis: That was George Wein's concept. He was asked to do some jazz concerts as part of a subscription series at Carnegie Hall. He decided to start a big band, and he asked me if I would be the musical director. He had heard a couple of the big bands that I had put together for Dizzy and also a big band that I put together for a centennial celebration of Carnegie Hall. The band couldn't help but sound good because of who was in it. The rhythm section consisted of Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter and Mickey Roker. Also, we had Al Grey and Freddie Hubbard. We didn't have much time to rehearse, but George said, "That's the best put-together big band I ever heard." After that, George asked me to become the Musical Director of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band.

Now, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band is winding down. Carnegie Hall has decided to discontinue it. We've had a great ten years there. We had great guests and some great arrangers for the band.

JazzReview: Was most of the music documented?

Jon Faddis: I think, for the most part, yes. Most of the concerts were recorded for JazzSet, the National Public Radio program that's produced here by Becca Pullium. And there are two CD's: Eastwood: After Hours and the self-titled Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. A DVD of Eastwood: After Hours was produced also.

JazzReview: Do you think the band will stay together under a new name?

Jon Faddis: Hopefully.

JazzReview: You teach at the Conservatory of Music at SUNY-Purchase. How do you approach teaching your students?

Jon Faddis: One of my teaching philosophies is to immerse students in the music. They need to know how this music started, how it developed and who some of the major stylists are on the student's particular instrument. I try to give the students a foundation so that they can go in any direction they choose. For example, I had a drum student who liked to play "jungle music" (not Duke Ellington's). I didn't know what that was. So, I said, "Bring me a tape." When he did, I said, "You know what? If you studied Elvin Jones's style and put some of his work with what's on the tape, that would be bad. He started listening to Elvin, and then he branched out a little bit into Art Blakey. One of the positives is that the student isn't so much into the jungle music any more. Now he's into Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones.

JazzReview: You've said that students should listen directly to Louis Armstrong, instead of "listening to [Armstrong] by way of Wynton Marsalis."

Jon Faddis: If a young musician can be drawn into the music by someone who is currently on the scene, that's good. But eventually he or she will have to go back to the source. And that's Louis Armstrong. It doesn't matter which instrument a student plays. He or she should study Louis Armstrong. You must first understand the source.

JazzReview: Were you able to meet him?

Jon Faddis: He died on July 6, 1971. That was the day I auditioned for Hamp's band. I'm not sure whether I had a chance to meet Louis or not, or whether it was just a dream. I think it was a dream. But I did meet his wife, Lucille. She told me that Louis would have loved me, and that meant a lot. I work some with the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, and I really enjoy that.

JazzReview: Do you think students should learn the business side of the music, as well as the artistic side?

Jon Faddis: Of course! Not to ignore the importance of the music, but once a student graduates or gets out onto the scene, he or she has to learn how to take care of business. There are problems in the music business, like theft of compositions, theft of publishing, not being paid enough royalties or broken contracts. How do you deal with that? How do you negotiate?

I work with an attorney, Peter Thall, now, and also my wife is an attorney. Occasionally, she provides resource material so that the students can better understand the business of music. She talks to them about copyright and publishing information. As the students become older and more accomplished, they play in different groups. At that point, they want to know about those kinds of situations that will likely face them in their groups.

JazzReview: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Jon Faddis: Having had the chance to be Music Director of a big band that includes musicians like James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess and Slide Hampton-musicians who go back to the forties and fifties with Dizzy and who were there when a lot of this great music was created--I feel blessed to be a part of Dizzy's legacy. It's a dream come true.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jon Faddis
  • Subtitle: Spreading the Word of Gillespie
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