NY Music Review by Marilyn Lester
For a trumpet genius who’s a protégé of another trumpet genius, where better to have a party than in the room named after the latter. And so it was that Jon Faddis brought his quartet to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola for a happy celebration of birthdays and music.
“He’s the best ever, including me!” declared Faddis’ mentor, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, bebop pioneer, composer and virtuoso (1917-1993). How can we doubt the great Dizzy? It’s a given that Faddis has complete control over his instrument, so much so that he makes playing seem effortless. Watching him perform with haute coolness would lull anyone into believing blowing the horn is as easy as all that.
With sidemen David Hazeltine on piano; Todd Coolman on bass, and Dion Parson on drums, the quartet took the stage directly with a high-energy, 18-karat blow of “Barron,” a Faddis composition in tribute to NEA Jazz Master, pianist Kenny Barron. Combining expressive riffs in homage to the piano man’s style, the piece also evoked the voice of Gillespie, with Faddis taking his instrument to the heights of wailing sound with no doubt about the mastery of his chops.
With “Barron” announcing “we’re here!” the fully alert and delighted audience was in the groove for whatever came next – and that, as it turned out, was a pair of very laid back ballads. The jazzman’s stock in trade is improvisation, and so, upon learning that old friend Mercedes Ellington was in the house (she’s the dancer/choreographer and Broadway star who also happens to be the granddaughter of the Duke) the quartet switched gears to dedicate two tunes to her.
The first tune was by Ellington’s composing-arranging partner, Billy Strayhorn, the amusingly named “Upper Manhattan Medical Group (UMMG),” and the second, Ellington’s 1932 classic (also dedicated to Faddis’ wife), “Sophisticated Lady.” Both were performed in a lyrical, mellow mood with a smooth jazz approach. Solos by pianist Hazeltine demonstrated a light touch, as did Faddis on the horn, with a few interchanges on the flugelhorn and muted trumpet. Coolman and Parson laid down an easygoing beat that neatly backed up the dominant instruments, but with ample opportunity to shine in their solo spots.
The last piece in the set was “Gillespiana,” a five-movement suite (Prelude, Blues, Panamericana, Africana, Toccata) written and recorded in 1960 by composer/pianist Lalo Schifrin. It was scored for a big band of mostly horns and drums (Dizzy himself was in the trumpet section). The Jon Faddis Quartet, playing full-out, delivered a sound so rich and resonant it left no one feeling deprived. Faddis is a generous leader, giving liberal play time to his sidemen between the heads. Bassist Coolman took an extended solo in the second movement and drummer Parsons had his time to demonstrate virtuosity in the last.
The set over, a revved up audience insistently demanded more. But an encore was not to be: the quartet had already gone overtime and the house had to be cleared for the late show. Earlier in the evening, Faddis quoted Duke Ellington: “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” It was clear that, this evening, good music had been heard.
Jon Faddis Quartet 61st Birthday Celebration, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola/Jazz at Lincoln Center, July 24 – 26, Cover: Thurs-Fri, Sun, $40; Sat, $45 Student: $25 (Thurs-Sat, 9:30pm only), 10 Columbus Circle, 212-258-9595, jalc.org/dizzys