TUESDAY, JAN. 24: The Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York played an exhilarating set on Friday night with each of the 17 band members taking centre stage at one point or another.
And while Faddis — the great trumpeter and bandleader — was generous with his limelight, it remained clear who was the boss in a show he conducted with benevolent command.
This protégé of the legendary John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie certainly made sure his mentor’s spirit was alive with sprinklings of lingering lines, improvisations and complex runs not to mention his light-hearted character.
The range of style was commendable from light, textured jazz to high-energy swing to long, screaming lines that punctured the air in the auditorium and practically your eardrums with it.
Searching, melancholy, playful, mischievous and down-right dirty would describe much of the evening’s fare.
The band members switched spots on the small Fairmont stage, shuffling by each other to perform solos, duets, sectional parts and full ensemble.
The audience was treated to everything from the lazy meanderings of Tin Tin Dao to the chaotic diversions of a Dizzy favourite — A Night in Tunisia with its piercing yet rousing finale.
Then there was the effortless swing of Theloniuos Monk’s Little Rooty Tooty and the exhilarating Giant Steps by John Coltrane (Foster) richly seasoned with the saxophonists’ quartet.
Steve Turre’s warm, talky trombone solo was memorable — with the help of his rubber mute it divulged witty secrets. In another solo, his trombone’s short puffs peppered the slick jazz backing before he threw in a dash of something with a little more kick.
Faddis took time to congratulate students in the audience he tutored as part of an outreach programme — and gave a lesson into how to perform Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, a slow tempo number, without it “dragging”.
There were a few hitches sound-wise — the bass seemed a little quiet in the mix which was particularly noticeable during solos and the wonderful sounds of Renee Rosnes’ piano were muted in the first half but all in all our ears were in for a musical feast.
As well as an evening of tight, tantalizing jazz, Jon Faddis brought with him an endearing and effortless humour. One member of the audience said something noticeably loud in between songs and Faddis turned to his general direction and said, after a long pause: “This is not a conversation.” An element of the teacher seemed to shine through which was funny when played on adults.
He referred back to the incident at the end of the first set telling the audience coolly: “We’ll continue this conversation after the interval”.
He was, of course, referring to the conversation coming from the instruments and what a lively, heated discussion they had.
There was a great camaraderie between the band members, there was constantly some kind of interaction happening during the performances — a nod here, a smile there – even full-blown conversations and apparent punch lines.
It was great to watch — it brought down the “fourth wall” a little as they say in the industry.
His double bass player Todd Coolman may be the “man with the hippest name in jazz” but I think Faddis has the coolest demeanour — full of character and enjoying a gentle swagger throughout.
The Bermuda Festival of Performing Arts should be proud of the accolade it received from Faddis during the show — he told the audience that the festival was among the best in the world. He joked that being from New York the band wasn’t used to being treated so nicely. “It makes me feel like there’s an ulterior motive.”
He played Fascinating Rhythms to close the show but obliged us by returning for an encore — a medley of songs by Duke Ellington about trains.
The show got a well-deserved standing ovation and the encore only left the crowd wanting more — in a “lesson in improvisation” Faddis readied his band for a second encore, only for them to play one almighty wallop of a note and then leave the stage.
The note seemed to beckon us all to come by and catch them at another joint some day.