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,

February 9.

"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

I could."

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,"

Faddis promises.

— Richard J. Skelly

Jon Faddis and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars,


Theater , 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. $16

to $28. Friday, February 9, 8 p.m.

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