In 1994, trumpeter Jon Faddis starred in “The Newport Jazz Festival on Tour,” a concert that launched a promising new jazz series in Orchestra Hall.
On Friday night, Faddis returned to the same stage, closing the Symphony Center Presents Jazz series’ 25th anniversary season – and reminding Chicagoans of how much he has been missed.
For from 2004 through 2010, Faddis served as artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, a mighty band that, alas, ceased operating in 2012. During those years, Faddis was practically ubiquitous on the Chicago scene, leading the CJE in concert halls and clubs, performing in festivals large and small, teaching and coaching young people at Columbia College Chicago (where the CJE was based) and elsewhere.
The combination of Faddis’ hypervirtuosity and charismatic stage manner made him a larger-than-life presence in Chicago jazz, and that’s the persona that dominated Friday night’s Orchestra Hall concert.
Yes, Faddis shared his program with fellow trumpeters Tanya Darby, Ingrid Jensen and Chicagoan Pharez Whitted, each a voice well worth hearing. But whenever Faddis brought the horn to his lips, the sheer size of his sound, brilliance of his tone and speed of his runs inevitably placed everything else in the background. So although Faddis was generous in sharing the spotlight with his colleagues, there was no question who shaped this set.
The four trumpeters came out swinging with “Blues Walk,” which emerged as a tour de force of unison playing. When it came time for each to solo, however, Faddis’ colleagues sounded more tentative than one might have expected. Faddis’ soliloquy, however, proved a model of controlled heat, the trumpeter starting with a muted statement that soon burst forth with power and velocity.
Then Faddis ceded the stage to his fellow trumpeters. Darby offered a lyrically inspired account of Billy Strayhorn’s “Upper Manhattan Medical Group” (though Kiyoshi Kitagawa’s bass was overamplified here and elsewhere). Whitted produced some of the most melodically subtle work we’ve heard from him in the ballad “I Thought About You.” Jensen unfurled poetically crafted solos in a merger of Thad Jones’ “A Child is Born” and Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle.”
When it came time for Faddis to reclaim the stage, he began with a few words.
“We’re here because Wayne Shorter isn’t feeling so well,” said Faddis, acknowledging that this concert indeed was to have featured the legendary saxophonist-composer, 85, who had cancelled.
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“So we want to play something for Wayne.”
The tenderness with which Faddis began “I Can’t Get Started” said a great deal about his regard for Shorter, who played this stage many times. It didn’t take long, however, for Faddis to return to herculean form, along the way quoting everything from Randy Weston’s “Hi-Fly” to Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite.”
For the finale, all four horns joined forces again in Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” in effect a tribute to the trumpeter-composer who influenced Faddis most, and whose legacy Faddis carries forth.
The evening opened with a set from Dr. Lonnie Smith, who walked slowly and tenuously to the Hammond B-3 organ. Once he got there, however, Smith conjured a regal presence. He didn’t play a lot of notes, but the majesty and spaciousness of his extended chords, the flashes of melody that erupted from them and the surging energy of his delivery made impact. Guitarist Dave Stryker and drummer Joe Dyson augmented Smith’s playing without getting in the way – and they made sure the organist remained the center of attention.
Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.