Last night, renowned jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis taught a master class and performed with students from Hackett Catholic Central High School in Kalamazoo. He’ll be making similar stops in Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Detroit.
Faddis says he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for his mentor, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie. When Faddis first met Gillespie as kid, he made Gillespie sign all of his records.
“And he didn’t remember all of those record that I had. And ‘I don’t remember this one,’ he would say. And I’d say ‘Yeah, that’s the one where your solo goes…’ and I start singing his solo to him," Faddis says. "And he was, I think ,impressed that a young trumpet player at that time was a fan of his.”
Not too long after that, Dizzy Gillespie invited Faddis on stage to play with him. And they remained friends ever since. Now, with the help of a Michigan State University residency program, Faddis will tour the state this weekend to help kids perfect their art—just like Dizzy Gillespie did for him.
The program is part of a $1 million grant from the MSU Federal Credit Union that will help bring famous jazz artists to Michigan every year. Rodney Whitaker is the Director of Jazz Studies at MSU and a musician in his own right—he plays double bass. Whitaker says kids in the Midwest often miss out on the chance to see big names like Jon Faddis.
“They don’t necessarily get an opportunity to see artists at that level at the top of their craft," says Whitaker. "And for us it’s about bringing jazz to the people, that’s really what it’s about. I mean I fell in love with it growing up in my hometown Detroit hearing it live. And I feel if you can bring the music to the people, they’ll fall in love with it. And they’ll love the music and it will stay with them. Even if the students don’t want to be professional musicians, we’ve expanded the audience of jazz. And that’s probably, for me, the most important thing.”
Whitaker says schools involved can use money from these concerts with Faddis to better their jazz programs. But it’s not just about education; it’s also about preserving an important piece of Michigan history. Jazz artists like Thad Jones, Milt Jackson, and Alice Coltrane all called Michigan home.
What’s more, Jon Faddis is one of the last living musicians to study with older jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie. Faddis says back when he was a kid, jazz musicians were some of the only positive African American role models in the media.
“When you would see a movie or when one would see a movie like Gone with the Wind, you know, we would have happy slaves and a certain type of demeaning role that blacks played in the media," says Faddis. "And for me, the most positive roles that I found were of musicians. And when I saw Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington’s band or Count Basie’s band or Nat King Cole or Dizzy, that really got me excited.”
All in all, Faddis says this program is about keeping the spirit of jazz alive.
“It’s not just a matter of, you know, preserving styles. It’s taking and absorbing those styles and doing something a little bit different with it," Faddis says. "And that’s how jazz, I believe, continues to grow and doesn’t become stagnant or, you know, museum pieces.”