Dizzy Gillespie was known for his high notes that reached into the stratosphere. No other trumpeter came near those stratospheric notes until the young Jon Faddis, who idolized Dizzy, came on the scene.
Today he remains one of the very few players whose notes can dance in the sky like those of his friend and mentor Gillespie. Faddis, who became the protégé of Gillespie early on, played and recorded with him for some years before moving out on his own.
July 21to July 23, the Faddis Quartet, with pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Dion Parsons, will perform at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (60th Street and Broadway). Over the years Faddis has acquired quite a reputation, and at age 64, he proudly represents the jazz tradition.
He understands the music from musicianship to history. He learned from the best including Gillespie, Jimmy Heath and Miles Davis. He said he listened to Roy Eldridge, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard.
His highflying rhythms and his soulful ballads, with the contribution of a swinging band, will keep the music inspiring. Shows each night will be at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Visit the website jazz.org/dizzys for more information.
The young singer Christine Melton and her jazz quintet perform July 22, at the Dwyer Cultural Center (258 St. Nicholas Ave. at 123rd Street), with “America’s oldest working jazz musician,” from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Melton has assembled a well-rounded established group that includes the guest tenor saxophonist Fred Staton, who is swinging at the young age of 102, pianist Bertha Hope (the widow of the innovative composer, arranger and pianist Elmo Hope), bassist Marcus McLaurine and drummer George Gray. Some of Melton’s repertoire will swing through the “Great
“Fred Staton is the most beautiful true gentleman that I’ve ever met,” said Melton. “His talent on the saxophone is immense. He has a vibrant spirit and youthful outlook. If you listen to him play or talk, it’s cool, suave and laid-back. I just love him.”
Staton said he is looking forward to the gig. “I love playing with Bertha and I love her as a person,” he said. “I am going to retire from playing all together soon. It’s time to just relax.”
I met Staton last week at the Local 802 Musician’s Union Monday night jam session. He was a special guest who was sitting in with elder jazz musicians, including drummer Jackie Williams, saxophonist David Blue, trombonist Art Baron, trumpeter Joey Morant and the pianist Zeke Mullin, who was celebrating his 93rd birthday. The hall was crowded with his many friends and musicians on hand to play. Food and a huge birthday cake were served.
Staton sat in a chair offstage and led on a few standards. “I haven’t been playing gigs that often but I do sit in sometimes especially for this birthday party honoring Zeke,” he said.
Staton never took formal lessons. He was basically self-taught, and he took some music instruction from other musicians. It was in his hometown of Pittsburg where he originally became involved in music, singing in a gospel quartet and playing drums.
“I played drums for two minutes and realized by the time I packed up the drums all the girls had left with the other musicians,” said Staton. “One day I found a Buesher tenor saxophone in the practice room and started fooling around, and I adapted right to it and decided that’s what I wanted to play.”
He and composer, arranger and lyricist Billy Strayhorn attended the same high school. “We graduated the same year and we were born in the same year,” noted Staton.
Staton never pursued a full-time music career while living in Pittsburg. During World War II he worked in the shipyard as a welder. In 1945 he continued to play music and went into the food service business. He worked in a couple of restaurants before moving to New York in 1952.
Moving to New York wasn’t to gain a reputation in music. He settled in Harlem’s Mt. Morris Park, where he and his family remained for 20 years before moving to Riverdale. He continued to work in restaurants in Lincoln Center and other locations. “At different times, I also owned a few restaurants,” stated Staton. Working full-time helped him support his family, but didn’t propel his status in music. “I wasn’t looking for gigs,” he said. “I was never the guy who carried my horn around with me. I was just another jazz fan, who liked playing the saxophone.”
His favorite saxophonists were Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. “Man, I was lucky I saw those guys, plus everybody else, like Louis Armstrong, Chick Webb and Ella, Sarah Vaughan and Duke Ellington,” recalled Staton. “It was good to see Strayhorn when Duke was playing, although I really didn’t keep in touch since
I was working a full-time job.”
A widower who has outlived his siblings and several of his five children, Staton said he was born on Valentine’s Day in 1915. His younger sister, Dakota Staton, became a prominent jazz and blues singer. She died in 2007, at 76.
“I didn’t start playing music full-time until after I fully retired in my 70s,” said Staton. “That’s when I started playing with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band.”
Al Vollmer, a Westchester County orthodontist, assembled the group of veteran musicians in 1973. The band includes pianist Zeke Mullins, 93, and drummer Jackie Williams, 84, on drums.
“Music goes through different stages: swing, fusion, bebop, calypso and lots more,” noted Staton. “I like the swing era. That’s the music I like to play.”
He said seeing the bands at the Savoy Ballroom was very exciting. “I wasn’t a real dancer but I loved to watch,” said Staton.
In recent years he has led the groups Jazz Gents and Sounds of Deliverance that played gospel brunches at Copeland’s, which was one of Harlem’s most popular restaurants located on 145th Street.
“I enjoy my life and thank God,” said Staton. “Being this age is no secret. God just gave me that energy to stay here.”
For tickets, call 646-387-9414 or visit the website ticketbud.com/events. Tickets are $40 at the door and $20 in overflow rooms.