Jon Faddis: Man of Many Bands

AAJ Staff By

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"He's the best ever, including me!
Dizzy Gillespie, talking about Jon Faddis.

High praise indeed for Jon Faddis from one of the legendary trumpet players in jazz history. But Faddis has earned his place among the greats of jazz with a combination of amazing trumpet technique, rare skill as a leader of big bands and small groups, and remarkable talent as a composer, arranger and educator.

Born in Oakland, California in 1953, Faddis was playing professionally in New York by the time he was 17 — a gifted prodigy taken under the wing of the great Gillespie but who also worked with greats such as Charles Mingus, Gil Evans, Duke Ellington and many others. In addition to leading the Dizzy Gillespie 70th Birthday Big Band, the United Nation Orchestra and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Faddis conducted the acclaimed Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra from its beginnings in 1991 through 2002, when the Orchestra disbanded.

He now leads the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra as well as touring with his own quartet and appearing as a guest artist with symphonies and orchestras around the world. Faddis also recently took the helm as the artistic director of the Chicago jazz Ensemble. Faddis continues to teach at Purchase College as Artist-In-Residence and Professor, and in 2003 received the first honorary doctorate ever awarded by the Manhattan School of Music.

All About Jazz: There's a story that when you were about eight years old back in Oakland, California, you happened to see Louis Armstrong on TV on the "Ed Sullivan Show, and that inspired you to play trumpet. Is that how it really happened?

John Faddis: It's pretty funny the way that worked out. I had an older sister who played piano and I was noodling at the piano we had in the house, but I wasn't really playing music. And I remember that sometime after I had seen Louis Armstrong on TV, I was asked by my parents which instrument I would like to play if I could choose one. In one of those split second epiphanies, I thought: my sister plays the piano, the guy down the street plays sax and his brother plays trombone, someone else plays drums... Louis Armstrong... he was great! Trumpet! I blurted out trumpet, and the next thing I knew my parents had bought a trumpet and were signing me up for lessons on Saturday morning. Which at that age was cartoons and pancakes and play time. So it was not what I wanted to do at the beginning.

AAJ: Obviously it did turn into something you wanted to do. What were the big influences that turned you on to jazz — and wanting to be a jazz trumpeter?

JF: My second trumpet teacher, Bill Catalano, was a former trumpet player with Stan Kenton and still played a lot of clubs in the Bay area. He was a very big influence on me. I started with him when I was 10 and stayed with him until I was 16. My first teacher was a straight classical player, while Bill had a jazz background. And I liked that a lot. Bill was the one who introduced me to Dizzy Gillespie's music, and that was it for me. I started getting into Dizzy, and when I was 15 got the chance to play with him. That did it. I wanted to be a jazz musician.

AAJ: How did that meeting with Dizzy come about?

JF: I met Dizzy at the Monterey Jazz Festival when I was 15. I took all of my records down there hoping to meet him and have a chance to get his autograph, and that's exactly what happened. I was in heaven! He signed all of my records — which at that time was about 50. Not too long after that he was playing at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco and my mother took me over. I met him again and he invited me to play with him. Thatwas a very special night — one I'll never forget.

AAJ: Not long after that when you graduated from high school, you joined Lionel Hampton's band at the age of 17 and headed for New York City. Had you been keeping in touch with Diz since those first meetings?

JF: I tried. I got his address from Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz, and sent him cards and stuff. But they were returned because he had moved. Then, about six months after I came to New York, I saw Diz was playing at the Village Vanguard. I decided Iwasn't going to miss him, so I quit the Hampton band and went down to see Diz play all night. He remembered me and let me sit in again.

AAJ: You went on to play with Dizzy quite often over the years, and he was obviously a tremendous influence on you. But were there other trumpeters that influenced you in your early days as a professional musician?

JF: At one point, Bill Chase, the former trumpet player with Woody Herman, was a big influence. Snooky Young was another influence, I would say. I also had the opportunity to meet Clark Terry, who was very, very helpful to me in the early days of my career. He still is, and we've become very good friends. Lew Soloff , the same way. But I actually used to listen to records by every trumpet player that came out back then. I listened to everybody —and I still do.


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