The Northview High School Jazz Band was wailing, but professional trumpeter Jon Faddis wasn’t satisfied.
“That sounds tired,” Faddis told the ensemble members as they rehearsed the ending of “Groovin’ High,” a Dizzy Gillespie classic. “Hit it. Hit it as hard as you can in short notes: baht-baht-ba-dah!”
The band repeated the ending to Faddis’ liking – pretty much. After yet another try, he said, “That’s good, that’s good.”
Satisfying a world-class trumpeter isn’t easy, Northview jazz students discovered.
Faddis imparted musical and life lessons when he came to Northview with the Michigan State University Be-Bop Spartans jazz band on Dec. 7. He rehearsed with and conducted a master class for both groups before performing with them in concert that evening.
As part of MSU’s artist-in-residence program, Faddis came to Northview and a Kalamazoo high school thanks to a $1 million grant obtained by Rodney Whitaker, director of MSU’s jazz studies program. The aim was to expose students to big-name musicians.
Students got exposed to Faddis’ first-rate skills and his experience with legendary jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Gillespie along with pop artists such as Kool & the Gang. In an hour-long master class he urged students to learn their jazz history and put in the practice it takes to excel.
“You’re young, and you should be studying and reading and listening to this music every day,” Faddis told them.
High Standards and Stern Advice
Faddis, 60, brought a lifetime of musical accomplishment and a passion for music education. He honed his chops playing in bands with Lionel Hampton, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, and headed several groups including the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York. A prominent recording artist and former artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, Faddis also teaches at Purchase College, State University of New York.
Hosting Faddis was “an amazing opportunity,” said Greg Wells, Northview band director.
“I’ve never had that caliber of a musician to work with before, and neither had those particular students,” Wells said. He noted Faddis had played at Northview some years ago with previous band director Max Colley Jr., who built the high school jazz band into one of the state’s best.
Wells said several seniors told him Faddis’ master class was the best they have attended, adding, “It was bigger than music. It was mostly about life.”
Faddis exhibited exacting standards in working with students during rehearsal and equally high expectations during the master class afterward. He drilled students on their familiarity with — or ignorance of — jazz giants whose struggles forged the tradition to which today’s players are heir.
“How do you not listen to Louis Armstrong?” Faddis said. “Louis Armstrong, who was beloved throughout the world, who went through so much racial discrimination that he refused to lose his smile.”
Play with Joy
Faddis admonished students to learn more jazz history, saying today’s musicians have digital access to thousands of songs but know too little about the artists.
“We don’t even know who we’re listening to,” he said. “And we cut off a whole lot of generations because we tend to listen to what our peers tell us is hip.”
He also schooled them on the importance of setting goals, being wary of alcohol and drugs, and learning good business practices in an industry that’s left many musicians financially vulnerable.
“We don’t become musicians, especially jazz musicians, because we want to make a lot of money. We’re doing this music because of one thing: We have a passion for it.”
When a Northview student asked what made him want to become a musician, Faddis recounted the first time he played, at age 15, with his mentor Dizzy Gillespie. The room seemed to spin around, Faddis said, adding, “After that night, that’s when I knew what I wanted to do.”
He encouraged students to have fun when they perform and let the joy of music shine through.
“We have been given an extraordinary gift to be able to play our instruments for people,” Faddis told the group. “When we play music for people it’s an honor, because people are inviting you into their hearts. It’s like somebody inviting you into their home.”
His message and his playing left a strong impression with Randall Pleune, lead trumpet for the Northview jazz band.
“It is an incredible honor to play with such a great player and musician,” said Pleune, a senior. “Every single thing that he does, I learn from.”
Faddis talks about appreciating music history