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John Fedchock: Dedicated to Clifford Brown

By Published: October 14, 2008
AAJ: What other composing and arranging have you done?

JF: I went to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY to earn a Jazz Masters Degree, and studied arranging with Rayburn Wright. After leaving Eastman, I went on the road with Woody Herman for seven years, where I wrote my first charts. I ended up becoming Woody's musical director and writing most of the arrangements on Herman's very last two Grammy Award-nominated albums 50th Anniversary Tour (Concord, 1986) and Woody's Gold Star (Concord, 1987), which garnered accolades from jazz journalists worldwide. I still maintain a close association with the Herman orchestra, performing with the group on occasion and continuing to add my own compositions and arrangements to the band's library.

After leaving the band I moved to New York City and formed my John Fedchock New York Big Band. We have four albums out on the Reservoir label to date, with the most recent being the 2007 release Up & Running, which was on the charts for 17 weeks, getting up to #5 in the national jazz radio surveys. In 2003, I was honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with a Grammy Award nomination for Best Instrumental Arranging on the band's No Nonsense (2002) CD.

In addition to writing for my own band, I regularly compose commissioned pieces for a variety of professional and educational groups, and have traveled internationally as a guest composer/conductor/soloist. Many of my jazz compositions and arrangements are published by Kendor Music and Walrus Music Publishing.

AAJ: How did you come up as a musician—give us a brief musical bio from childhood on up to your early days as a professional.

JF: I was born and Raised in Cleveland, Ohio. At nine years-old, I chose the trombone. My very first teacher, from the age of nine all the way up until I was 17 or 18 years old, was Billy Lang who played with Ray Anthony and was a product of the big bands. The first thing he did was to start teaching me scales, and he'd have me play technical studies. Each lesson ended with us playing duets, two part harmony popular tunes, many of them with a swing feel to them which was invaluable because I was sitting next to someone who was interpreting the music correctly. I soon started to get a feel for his phrasing.

John Fedchock When I was about 16, Woody Herman brought his band to my school to play a concert and give a clinic, and that day changed my life because seeing his band made me realize you could still be a jazz musician in this day and age. His band was full of these 25 year-olds, and they were all playing this great music which wasn't just the old nostalgic stuff, but some fresh and exciting new things. That really gave me the drive to practice, get better and maybe some day get good enough to play with a band like that. That became my long term goal, to play with Woody Herman. I knew that was a tough goal to obtain but I knew I wanted to continue with my music. I went to The Ohio State University, and received a bachelors degree in Music Education as well as a bachelors degree in Jazz Studies Performance. My trombone teacher was Joseph Duchi.

I continued to follow Woody's band and every time they were around my area I would go to listen to them. I soon discovered that Woody was getting a lot of his players from the Eastman School of Music, so my next goal was to get into Eastman for grad school. At Eastman, I studied trombone with John Marcellus. He helped a lot with my technique, but he would also draw parallels to jazz. We'd be talking about legato and he would put on a Tommy Dorsey record or he'd talk about phrasing and he'd put on some Carl Fontana for me to listen to. A very "jazz-friendly" teacher, which can be rare at some conservatories.

During my time at Eastman, some friends introduced me to a few alumni that were on Woody Herman's band, and I gave them a demo tape of my playing. When an opening came up in the band, they called me. I started on the second trombone chair, the jazz chair, for about two and a half years, and then moved up to play lead.

AAJ: Who are some of your favorite trombone players. Who were your teachers and mentors on trombone?

JF: My other teachers are the ones I've never really studied with but have studied intensely. I've listened for hours to recordings of Carl Fontana, J. J. Johnson, Slide Hampton and Frank Rosolino, and when I was in high school Urbie Green was my ultimate hero. He could do anything and it taught me that I had to be able to do the same. At around that time Bill Watrous came out with all his big band recordings which were a huge inspiration. Here was a trombone player leading a big band in the '70s, which was unheard of. I've also always been a fan of trombonist Bennie Green and German trombonist, Albert Mangelsdorff.

I've been fortunate in the past several years to be able to work alongside some of my heroes. I became really great friends with Carl Fontana, and got to know Slide Hampton working along side him in the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band here in New York. I've also had the great pleasure being in playing situations with Urbie Green and Bill Watrous, both of whom have been very supportive of my musical ventures. I unfortunately never got the opportunity to work with J. J. or Frank Rosolino.

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