Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the February 7,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Having Fun like Dizzy
Trumpeter and bandleader Jon Faddis has never
the lessons the late great bandleader John Birks "Dizzy"
taught him. While Gillespie was serious about his music and about
the business of running a jazz band, he encouraged his musicians to
have fun on stage. Not surprisingly, Faddis is rapidly developing
a reputation as one of the funniest musicians in jazz.
"It was very important to him to have a good time on the
says Faddis in a phone interview from his office at SUNY-Purchase
where he is artist-in-residence this semester. Faddis, 47, and a
resident, was born and raised in Oakland, California, but has been
part of the New York jazz scene since the early 1970s, when he moved
east with Lionel Hampton’s Band.
Jon Faddis and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars come together
to make sweet music in homage to the be-bop innovator in an all-star
jam session that also features Paquito D’Rivera, Slide Hampton, Cyrus
Chestnut, John Lee, and Dennis Mackrel at the State Theater, Friday,
"If people see that you’re having a good time, they’re going to
have a good time, too," says Faddis, paraphrasing the group’s
mentor. "I asked Dizzy about this one time, and he said he’d
it very early on, from watching the bands of Cab Calloway and Billy
Eckstine. From those two guys, he learned to entertain and to make
sure the audience had a good time. And even when the audience didn’t
have a good time, he always felt it was very important for [the
to have a good time on stage."
"I played with Dizzy on hundreds of shows over the years and one
of the most amazing things about him was that we would hear the same
stories night after night, but we’d all react as if it was the first
time he was telling the story," Faddis recalls.
Gillespie was a peaceful man who loved to laugh and to make people
laugh. As such, he often told involved stories from the bandstand.
Sometimes, in introducing a tune like his classics "Manteca"
or "Desifinado," he would do it in such a way as to make the
audience laugh. During "Manteca," he would sometimes corrupt
his own lyrics and start singing, "I’ll never go back to
Gillespie also liked to play with the gospel hymn,
Low, Sweet Chariot," which he renamed "Swing Low, Sweet
He would sing: "Swing low, sweet Cadillac, comin’ for to carry
me home…I look in the mirror and what did I see….oh, an El Dorado,
comin’ after me….comin’ for to carry me home."
Gillespie had tunes with titles like "You Stole My Wife, You Horse
Thief" and "Hey Pete, Let’s Eat More Meat," or songs,
Faddis explains "that maybe weren’t humorous per se, but they
had a certain type of value as far as the entertainment factor
Trumpeter and bandleader Jon Faddis was born in Oakland in 1953, and
began playing trumpet at age seven. "I had one sister who played
piano and another sister who sang, and they both gave it up to raise
their families," he says. "My mother was talented in music
and her family was talented in music, but my father had absolutely
no rhythm," he adds, laughing.
"I had seen Louis Armstrong on the Ed Sullivan Show, and one day,
when I was seven, my parents asked me, `John, if you could play an
instrument, which one would it be?’ And I remembered this vision I
had of Louis Armstrong on the Ed Sullivan Show, and all of these
took place in a nanosecond, so I said I wanted a trumpet. Next thing
I knew, my parents had bought me a trumpet and were making me take
trumpet lessons," he recalls.
"At that time, it wasn’t something I wanted to do, but they made
me do it. And I didn’t really start to like it until I played in the
school band. Then I met Bill Catalano when I was 10 or 11, he was
a really good trumpet teacher, very inspirational, and he introduced
me to Dizzy’s music and made the trumpet fun! When you’re young it’s
got to be fun or you don’t want to do it," he points out.
Catalano worked with Stan Kenton’s Big Band, and he would take his
by-then eager young student with him to band rehearsals each week.
"On Saturdays, most of the professionals in the Bay area would
be in the band and there were a lot of guys on the scene — Allen
Smith, Rigby Powell, Benny Barth and others. So when I was 10 or 11
these were the musicians I was meeting and hanging out with,"
he says. They made an impression on Faddis, but nothing made as much
of an impression on him as the first time he had the chance to see
Gillespie perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
At age 12, Faddis met Gillespie for the first time, bringing a stack
of about 50 albums for him to sign at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
But he was too shy to say much to Gillespie, a great international
statesman of jazz and goodwill.
"In the late 1960s, the whole country seemed to be going
he recalls, "and there was a very Republican, right-wing
in place, so there wasn’t much funding for arts in school. So I went
to an arts high school in the white suburbs," he recalls. There,
he played in a jazz ensemble, as well as the marching band and
"and I can even remember some jam sessions we had at lunch time
in the cafeteria." He also played in a succession of garage rock
and classic rhythm and blues bands where somehow, what little money
they were supposed to have received was hardly ever paid.
"That first year in high school, my mom took me to this club,
the Jazz Workshop, to see Dizzy Gillespie. And I came into school
the next day and told everybody I knew that I had played with Dizzy
Gillespie the night before! It was a club where no minors were
but I had already met Dizzy at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and I think
he was taken aback at the time, that here was this young trumpet
with 50 or 60 of his albums."
Since his mom took him, he got into the Jazz Workshop and reminded
Gillespie on the break that they had met before.
"I showed up at the club with my horn, and he said, `You got your
horn, why don’t you go and take that solo?,’ and so I did," Faddis
recalls. "From that point on, I was playing with him whenever
After graduating from high school in 1972, he got a job with Lionel
Hampton’s Band and moved with him to New York City. Was Manhattan
a big culture shock after laid-back San Francisco?
"Yes it was, I suppose," he says, "I noticed how people
in New York were like, `Get out of my way!’ So mostly what I did when
I first got here was I stayed in my room and practiced trumpet."
But Faddis had a job with Hampton’s band, and he had friends who were
already there, including trumpeter Clark Terry, now an 80-year-old
elder statesman of jazz, and Lew Soloff, born and raised in Lakewood,
who has accompanied everyone from Dr. John to Eric Clapton on
"Both Lew and Clark Terry helped me break into the business here
in New York, they helped me get gigs at clubs and more importantly,
helped me get gigs for recording sessions and concerts."
Between 1975 and 1982, Faddis became one of the more in-demand trumpet
players for studio session work in New York, and his trumpet playing
can be heard on albums by Duke Ellington, the Rolling Stones, Aretha
Franklin, Luther Vandross, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, and Stanley Clarke.
His trumpet is also featured on "The Cosby Show" theme music
and in the Clint Eastwood film "The Gauntlet," and
a film about the life and times of saxophonist Charlie Parker.
Since Gillespie was based in Englewood for most of his life —
when he wasn’t on the road — Faddis and Gillespie had more jam
sessions together at clubs in New York. In 1977, Faddis toured Europe
with Gillespie, and a decade later, he became musical director for
Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra.
Asked what Gillespie was like to work for at that point, Faddis
the legendary bandleader knew what he wanted. "He had definite
ideas about what he wanted from different instruments in his group,
but when you took a solo, you could solo however you wanted to. But
when it came time to comp or play parts, he had certain ideas and
he was very specific about communicating that. But he wasn’t a tyrant
or anything like that, and like I said, he wanted all of us to have
fun on stage."
"After shows, when the subject would turn to music, you could
see Dizzy’s eyes light up like a little kid in a candy shop,"
says Faddis. Gillespie, who influenced comedian and jazz fanatic Bill
Cosby with his facial expressions and ways of explaining things while
on a stage, died in Englewood in 1993.
Faddis and his Gillespie Alumni All-stars have two well-recorded
out on Shanachie Records, a label known for its vast catalogs of Irish
and other traditional folk musics as well as blues. Faddis, who also
records under his own name, has two albums out with the Gillespie
Alumni Band, "The Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars" and the
1999 release, "Dizzy’s World." There’s a telling quote from
Gillespie in the liner notes to the first album: "This world is
a circus, so you have to do serious things with a light heart."
In late 1991, Faddis was tapped to become music director for the
Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, a position he still holds. The last time
Faddis was at the State Theater in New Brunswick, he was leading the
Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. This time is different, he explains, because
it’s a much smaller group of musicians, so there will be lots more
room for improvisation and some of Faddis’ own funny anecdotes and
jokes. He’ll be accompanied by John Lee on bass, Slide Hampton on
trombone, Paquito D’Rivera on alto saxophone and clarinet, Cyrus
on piano, and Dennis Mackrel, drums.
"The audience can expect a `dizzyingly’ musical and fun time,"
— Richard J. Skelly
Theater , 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. $16
to $28. Friday, February 9, 8 p.m.
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