When Jon Faddis brings on three more trumpeters to join his quartet at Symphony Center, sparks should fly, but don’t expect a battle. While he has accumulated more than 40 years’ worth of accomplishments in jazz — not to mention playing on some familiar pop songs — he has contributed just as much as an educator and mentor. Faddis emphasizes that collaborative spirit whenever he walks onstage.
“I think there has always been a certain camaraderie and mutual respect between trumpet players,” said Faddis, ahead of his SCP Jazz concert June 7. “Mainly because we all understand how difficult the instrument is, we’ve all gone through trials and tribulations of doing certain things on the instrument. Nowadays we don’t often get an opportunity to jam like people used to. So this is going to be a Jazz at the Philharmonic [concert series] type of structure, where we just get together and play.”
For this concert, Ingrid Jensen, Tanya Darby and Chicago’s Pharez Whitted will join Faddis’ working group. Along with admiring their individual styles, Faddis has another initiative to present them. When he was a teenager, Dizzy Gillespie guided him, and years later, Faddis’ remarkable high notes became a big part of the bebop legend’s orchestra. Nowadays, he continues to pass that spirit forward.
“Being with Dizzy was life-changing,” Faddis said. “I knew after the first time I played with him that I wanted to be a trumpet player. The more I observed him, the more I saw his generosity. Every time a musician had a question about music, if Dizzy had the time, he would show them what the music was about. I don’t know if people know that about him.”
After numerous experiences with Gillespie and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Faddis conveyed new ideas to different large ensembles. In 1992, he started conducting New York’s Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, where he combined different generations of players and invited several older masters who had not played in this historic venue. Twelve years later, he began leading the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, which was based at Columbia College. Faddis consistently challenged the organization with his programs, which included new large-scale arrangements of works by Ornette Coleman. He also welcomed in such locally based heroes as the late pianist Willie Pickens.
He left the ensemble in 2010, but has retained fond memories of that time. “Meeting and making friends with musicians in Chicago is probably what I’m most proud of,” Faddis said. “I still feel like I have a musical family in Chicago.”
While Faddis has released relatively few albums as a leader, his sharp tone highlights the disc “Teranga” (2006), which also features collaborations with traditional Senegalese musicians. Since the 1970s, he has recorded on hundreds of sessions for artists ranging from Gillespie and Oscar Peterson to Paul Simon and James Brown. He also played on one widely known single: The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” Such versatility is part of what he teaches as a professor of jazz studies at Purchase College, State University of New York. Along with advising young brass players to practice softly as a way to keep their skills together, he believes they should also remain open-minded while embracing their passion.
“I tell them to do it because you love it, not because you make a lot of money, although for some, it’s possible,” Faddis said. “Write your own music because you don’t know when an opportunity will come up for your music to be recorded. And listen to different types of music, not just jazz. I have former students who are playing with Lady Gaga. Things just happen like that, you just never know.”
Aaron Cohen is a Chicago-based journalist and lecturer. His latest book, “Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power,” will be published in September by the University of Chicago Press.