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Jon Faddis makes a bittersweet return to Chicago

Howard Reich

12:40 PM EDT, October 29, 2013

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When trumpet virtuoso Jon Faddis takes the stage of the Harris Theater on Sunday afternoon, he probably will feel a brew of emotions – as will his fans.

For Faddis will be returning to the city where he scored major artistic triumphs with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, only to lose his directorship and eventually see the CJE cease activity last year. Both events were due to financial constraints at Columbia College Chicago, where the CJE had been based since William Russo founded it in 1965.

"It was a very, very intense time in my life," says Faddis, referring to his widely applauded tenure as artistic director of the CJE, from 2004 to 2011. "And there was a lot of nonmusical work involved with the CJE – so that I don't really miss.

"I miss the band members. … I miss the music, having that opportunity. And I miss crafting an ensemble like that, the way I thought it should sound."

As for the silencing of the band he'd brought to such a high technical and artistic level, "I think it's sad," says Faddis. "It saddens me to know that a lot of the hard work that was put into that ensemble – all of a sudden it no longer exists, or there's a question as to whether it should exist."

No decision has yet been announced by Columbia College Chicago as to whether or when the CJE might return, what form it could take and who might lead the organization if it does have a future. The band remains "on hiatus," says Richard Dunscomb, chairman of Columbia's music department.

But Columbia College Chicago's decision not to renew Faddis' contract in 2011 foreshadowed troubles ahead, even as drummer Dana Hall and executive director Kate Dumbleton heroically tried to keep the band alive following Faddis' departure. Hall's and Dumbleton's resignations May of last year made many listeners wonder whether the CJE ever will be heard again.

Whatever happens, Faddis' exit meant that Chicago lost more than the leader of a superb jazz orchestra. Though Faddis long has lived on the East Coast, he threw himself into Chicago's music scene, coaching students, appearing in schools and otherwise making himself accessible to young people on his own time and dime. In many ways, he was becoming a force in Chicago that transcended the reach of the CJE.

"What we lost is not only a high-profile but a high-energy and high-impact mentor for the entire community," says Lauren Deutsch, executive director of the non-profit Jazz Institute of Chicago, which worked with Faddis on a variety of educational programs.

"He told me one of the reasons he accepted that job (as CJE leader) was that he would be able to do whatever he could to help young students, especially on the South Side of the city, have the ability to have greater access to jazz. That was his underlying agenda for wanting to come to Chicago. He saw that he could have a great impact on the city's kids.

"Whatever context he was in with kids – whether it was through us, or adjudicating the Chicago Public Schools All-City (High School) Jazz Band Competition, or anywhere he performed where there were kids, he made himself available."

Some of those kids still talk about the gatherings Faddis held in his Chicago residence, inviting students from the Jazz Institute's Jazz Links program to come over and bring their instruments. Sooner or later, the young musicians would start to play, and Faddis would slip into teacher mode. Those sessions developed musicians and changed lives.

"Every month we would have a pizza party and jam session at Faddis' home, when he was here in Chicago," recalls Marquis Hill, a fast-rising Chicago trumpeter who on Thursday night launches a major engagement at the Jazz Showcase celebrating the release of his third album as bandleader, "The Poet."

"Every song we would play, he'd say, 'Oh, stop, do this. Why don't you try it this way?'

"He was dropping knowledge on us at a very young age. … He helped me a lot. He exposed me to a lot of records, a lot of music, a lot of techniques I had never heard of. This is when I was in high school. To meet – when you're in high school – someone who is a legend, it was a treat."

Hill recently joined the music faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Last month, he won the $10,000 top prize in the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition. Faddis served on the jury and was struck by how Hill had developed.

"He played very maturely … Marquis was the overwhelmingly unanimous decision for first place," says Faddis. "That makes me feel good, to know that I had some little bit of influence on someone who is doing so well in their life."

So Faddis' return to Chicago will rekindle memories of what was and inspire thoughts of what might have been, but it contains a kind of twist: He'll be appearing with Jeff Lindberg's mighty Chicago Jazz Orchestra, which to some degree was a rival of Faddis' CJE.

"It may seem a little strange that I'm coming back to play with the CJO, which was kind of, sort of competing with the CJE," says Faddis. "I always believe that music is something that brings people together. I had played with the CJO (before) and Jeff was very supportive of me, and I know some of the musicians in the CJO.

"I just look at this as another opportunity to play for the audience. It's not about all that political stuff. We're going to have a good time."

Specifically, Faddis will be revisiting the solo part in the classic Miles Davis/Gil Evans album "Miles Ahead" (1957), billed as the Chicago premiere of this music in concert. Less celebrated than subsequent Davis/Evans collaborations on "Sketches of Spain" and "Porgy and Bess," "Miles Ahead" will give Faddis the opportunity to explore a more muted, restrained approach to the horn than one typically associates with his bravura playing.

He acknowledges that he's not as familiar with the inner workings of the score as he is with "Sketches" and "Porgy," but he jokes that "maybe that will give me a leg up, because maybe the audiences won't know it that well, either."

Then, again, Faddis will play his own solos, not Davis', though Faddis hopes to suggest Davis' style of the late 1950s.

But even this partnership with the CJO will evoke Faddis' previous ties to the CJE. For Faddis, too, brought a Miles Davis album to the Harris Theater stage, appearing with core members of the CJE and guests in a luminous re-creation of Davis' "Kind of Blue." And the first half of Sunday's CJO concert will be a tribute to the great Count Basie arranger Frank Foster, whom Faddis and the CJE commissioned to write arrangements that now stand among Foster's last works (he died in 2011 at age 82).

"I think what I'm proudest of," says Faddis, "was having the opportunity to commission new works for the band, whether it was from Chicago arrangers, when we did that first concert in Millennium Park (in 2005) or getting a hold of Frank Foster and having him write some things. That is very special."

In his post CJE-life, Faddis remains busy as bandleader and clinician, teaching kids across the country and around the world, just as he did here in Chicago.

And he has one student who's getting special attention: three-year-old Tyler John Faddis, his son with wife Laurelyn Douglas, who also was a presence in Chicago during her husband's tenure here.

"Everyone says that when you have a child, your life is going to change," says Faddis, who reports that his son has expressed an interest in the violin.

"That doesn't really tell you what it means, or how it's going to change. But I think we've been very blessed, and he's a great and beautiful kid, and I now know what they mean. …

"Tyler makes me feel young and old at the same time. Being 60 – I just celebrated my 60th – and having a three-year-old and trying to keep up with him, that's good for me.

"But then I need more sleep these days. And it doesn't always happen the way we want it to."

Not everything in life – or music – does.

Wynton Marsalis' newest gig

The hardest working man in jazz, Wynton Marsalis, will become director of jazz studies at the Juilliard School in New York on July 1. Marsalis also serves as managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, leads its resident orchestra in tours around the world and broadcasts as a cultural correspondent for CBS television. Marsalis attended Juilliard for a period starting in 1979 and received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the school in 2006.

To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

Jon Faddis performs with Jeff Lindberg's Chicago Jazz Orchestra at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St.; $20-$40; phone 312-334-7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org or chicagojazzorchestra.com.