Smitty: Well, it’s always a pleasure to welcome fantastic musicians to JazzMonthly.com and my next guest is no exception. He has embraced the true essence of musical excellence and now he has redefined it in so many ways. He’s one of the few pure trumpeters in the business. His latest new record is called Teranga and we’re gonna talk about this great record and his fantastic career as well. Please welcome Koch recording artist, the amazing Mr. Jon Faddis. Jon, how ya doin’?
Jon Faddis (JF): I’m not sure after that intro. (Both laughing) Well, thank you very much for the kind words. I’m doing fine, Smitty.
Smitty: Excellent. You’re very welcome.
JF: How are you?
Smitty: All right, I’m doing great. It’s great to talk to you. As I was just saying before we started recording here that even though we’ve never really had a conversation. It’s great to talk with you now, but I feel like I have met you long ago after listening to this wonderful record.
JF: Well, hopefully it reaches a lot of people in that same way, that there’s a familiarity and a welcoming aspect to the music that makes people feel at home.
Smitty: Yes, indeed.
JF: That’s the meaning of Teranga as well.
Smitty: Yes. And it’s great that you said that because the things that you identify with this record are the things that we identify with in general in everyday life, but you bring so much emotion to your music and it really piques the emotions, and I love that.
JF: Well, I think all music can do that, one way or another, and music is really something special as far as reaching those emotions. I remember going to hear Art Blakey play and Art Blakey used to say that as jazz musicians the music is going straight from the Creator through the musician to the audience. And I really believe that there is truth to that.
Smitty: Absolutely. Let’s talk about Jon Faddis, and we’ll come back to the record because I really wanna talk about some of the deeper things of this record, but let’s talk about you first, for those that perhaps are not familiar with your music or not as familiar with you yet, though I can’t see how anyone would not have learned about you over the years. So, why did you select the trumpet? It appears at that time you could’ve selected and excelled with any instrument you wanted to try. Why the trumpet?
JF: (Laughs). Well, I was about seven years old when my parents [Millie and Woody Faddis] asked me what I thought was just an innocent question, and the question was “Jon, if you could play an instrument, which one would it be?” And I thought, well, I don’t want to play the piano because my sister plays the piano. I don’t want to play the saxophone or trombone because there were two brothers down the street, one played the saxophone, and one played the trombone. I don’t want to play the bass because I think somebody else down the street played the bass. Then all of a sudden I had this image of Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet … I still remember this like it was yesterday.
JF: I remembered having seen Louis Armstrong on the Ed Sullivan Show, so I just blurted out “Trumpet!” The next thing I knew, my parents had bought me a trumpet and were making me start taking trumpet lessons on Saturday mornings. And at the age of seven, Saturday mornings are special; for a kid, that’s Saturday morning. That’s when you get to go out and play and hang out with your friends and go explore and do things, and instead, I had to take trumpet lessons.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Spoken like a true musician. Those days weren’t as significant as we thought they would be later on, but those were significant times for ya, you know?
JF: Yes, and about three years later I got a different trumpet teacher. My first teacher, John Lambert, left the music store and I’m not sure why. So this new teacher came in, Bill Catalano, and it turned out he was a trumpet player who had had a lot of experience in jazz and was playing with Stan Kenton’s band and played with a lot of the acts that came through San Francisco, and he’s the one that really turned me on to practicing and the trumpet, and especially Dizzy Gillespie and his music.
Smitty: Yes. So was Dizzy Gillespie your first recollection of a recognizable person as far as music goes, the music that you heard? Was that your first recollection of that?
JF: Well, in terms of trumpet, other than Louis Armstrong, yes, I think it was the first to really resonate with me. From about the age of seven to ten, I’d sit home and practice, and we had albums by Pops, and Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, and we saw and heard them on television. I’d also play in the school bands. But in school we were playing little things like “Mysterious Mike.” That’s what they called it, but there wasn’t really much happening with me for music in school as far as any recognizable talent or influences or anything like that. It’s just going through the motions and I liked being in the school band because I could get out of other classes.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Oh, great opportunities in the beginning, huh?
JF: Yeah, but from the age of 10, that all did a 180-degree turnaround. I started to listen to Dizzy’s records and I started to practice seriously and my teacher would give me these exercises, and that was it! When I was 12, I had gone to see Dizzy in a club, but I petrified; I was too afraid to say anything to him. So I said to myself, “the next time I meet Dizzy, I’m gonna talk to him.” When I was 15, I went to the Monterey Jazz Festival and Dizzy was appearing and I took all of my Dizzy Gillespie records down, about 50 of them.
JF: And my mother said, “There’s Dizzy.” I said “Mom, go get the records!” So she ran to the car, brought back the 50 records, I was talking to Dizzy, and he sat down and autographed each and every record.
Smitty: Wow, how beautiful was that?
JF: I still have the records. The experience was amazing. As he was signing the albums, he would say, “I don’t remember this record.”
JF: When he would do that, I’d say, “Yeah, that’s the one where your solo goes …,” and I started singing his solo to him on it. He looked at me like I was crazy and “dizzy.”
JF: And then, not too long after that, he was appearing at the Jazz Workshop, a famous club in San Francisco, and I went over and took my horn. And actually no minors were allowed in the club, but I somehow talked my way in and my horn ended up in Dizzy’s dressing room, and during “A Night in Tunisia,” Dizzy walked past the table where I was sitting with my mom, and I said “Dizzy, are you going to play the ending?” He said “You’ve got your horn. You do it.”
JF: So I ran downstairs to the dressing room, got my horn, ran back up and played the ending, and then Dizzy invited me to play a couple of tunes with the band and sit in. His band at that time I think included saxophonist James Moody…
Smitty: Oh yeah…
JF: Who has since become a very close and dear friend, and also included pianist Mike Longo.
Smitty: Oh nice.
JF: And Jymmie Meritt was playing bass and I believe Candy Finch was playing drums, so I went up on stage and sat in with Dizzy on a couple of tunes, and I still remember being so nervous, just standing next to Dizzy; I felt like the room was spinning around.
JF: But I knew from that moment on, that music, and being a trumpet player, a jazz trumpet player, was what I wanted to do with my life.
Smitty: Wow, that’s an incredible experience.
JF: It was something very special.
Smitty: Wow, can you imagine, some 15-year-olds were barely getting an understanding about the future, and there you were with a legend and had already fixed in your mind that this is your future, as far as a career is concerned. That’s incredible.
JF: James Moody still laughs at me because he said “Here was this tall skinny kid with a big afro going in and telling corny knock-knock jokes.” (Both laughing.)
Smitty: You had a legendary band there on stage at that age.…
JF: Well, that was Dizzy’s band and I didn’t know I was gonna play. I was just taking my horn to try and get a single lesson or something like that. Dizzy didn’t give me a lesson that night; he gave me a lot more.
Smitty: You and Dizzy became great friends from that point on and when I think about that, that was eight years from the point that you got your first horn and look where you had come in eight short years. That’s amazing.
JF: Well, I don’t know about eight short years. I think the people who were hearing me practice at the beginning probably thought that the practice sessions and scales and stuff were going on forever. The dog was howling, I mean, people were covering their ears. They said, “Oh, Jon’s practicing the trumpet again.”
Smitty: Well, Dizzy had some wonderful things to say about you later on that really makes up for all of that. I read a quote somewhere where he said that you were the best ever, including him. That’s quite a compliment.
JF: It is. I don’t know how true what he said is or not, because there are some very fine trumpeters. But Dizzy was someone who was not threatened by any other trumpet player being on the bandstand. There are some trumpet players who get on the bandstand, or you get on the bandstand with them, and all of a sudden, it’ll turn into a battle or something like that. Dizzy wasn’t like that in any way. He was a very supportive adult role model for me, a very good friend, a very good mentor, and he was someone very special in that he helped guide me and helped to make me the man that I am today. He was a surrogate father and a then friend, and then our relationship evolved even more and we became more like brothers.