WEDNESDAY, JAN 18: When legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie tells you that you’re the best trumpeter in the world — and that includes himself — you know you’ve made it.
Jon Faddis, who is coming to perform on the island with his 16-piece band the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York, received that accolade from the man himself.
It must have been quite a buzz for him to hear it as Faddis, a jazz trumpeter, conductor, composer and educator at Purchase Colleg, NY, has always revered Gillespie. He fondly recalls first meeting him aged just 15 at the Monterey Jazz Festival. “I had taken all my Dizzy Gillespie records to be autographed hoping I would see him. At that time I had about 50 LPs and he signed them all.
“A couple of weeks later he was playing at a club — the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco — and I brought my trumpet there — he remembered me and let me sit in (perform).
“I was so, so afraid because this Dizzy was a hero and when I stood up next to him the room started spinning around counter clockwise! So once I got my breathing under control I played and I was on cloud nine. I knew that being a musician was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Faddis had the chance to study Dizzy Gillespie in New York “up close and personal” playing next to him on a bandstand. “If I can say it very politely, getting my butt kicked every night,” he laughed.
Faddis began playing at the age of just eight after being inspired by a performance by Louise Armstrong on TV. His meeting with Gillespie marked a turning point in his life and the beginning of a friendship that spanned 30 years.
“He was a regular guy but you never knew that, behind that regular guy, there was musical genius. He was versed in a variety of subjects whether it was religion, politics, history, sports. He also treated everyone the same. That’s one of the main things I learned from him was don’t put your nose up in the air just treat people like you would like to be treated. He was always willing to share what he knew about music and that’s one of the most important things I always try to pass on to students.”
At the age of 18, Faddis joined Lionel Hampton’s big band and moved from Oakland to New York. He played lead trumpet for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra at the Village Vanguard and then formed his own quartet.
He then began directing big bands including the Grammy-award-winning United Nation Orchestra and the Dizzy Gillespie 70th Birthday Big Band and, from 2003, the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York. He was also named the artistic director of The Chicago Jazz Ensemble which he continues to conduct.
Among his original compositions are Jazz Opera Lulu Noire (1997) and his Grammy-nominated Remembrances.
When he played in Lionel Hampton’s big band in the early 70s they performed here in Bermuda. He said he is looking forward to returning to show the island how far he has come.
“I remember Bermuda — it’s very lovely, very quaint and civilised. I’m looking forward to coming back with my big band because it’s one of the best bands around.
“We will be doing some things by Slide Hampton and the late Frank Foster…and maybe we will throw in a bit of Duke Ellington and (Count) Basie in there as well.”
The band is made up of Faddis and 16 other band members — 13 wind instruments (five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets) as well as piano, acoustic bass and drums. He promises that it will be a show to remember.
“It’s going to make people want to get up on their feet and dance. We want to make sure that the audience isn’t sitting there like lumps on a log we want to make sure they have a good time too.
“When the audience gets involved I think it makes us play better.”
The Jon Faddis Orchestra of New York performs at the Fairmont Southampton on January 20 at 8:30pm. See www.bermudafestival.org or call 232-2255 for tix.