‘No gigs last forever’

By HermineBloom

World-renowned trumpeter Jon Faddis’ six-year run as head of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble ended in August when Columbia, the group’s largest benefactor, eliminated his position in a cost-cutting move.

In 2011, the CJE will host only two major concerts—one in honor of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington in January and another celebrating Mahalia Jackson at the Symphony Center in May—as opposed to the six it organized last year. No one will formally hold the artistic director position, said Kate Dumbleton, executive director of the CJE, though Faddis is expected to guest conduct both performances.

Despite the budgetary hit sustained by the CJE, Dumbleton and members of the college alike are excited for the future of the ensemble.

“We have tremendous respect for Jon Faddis and the work he’s done for the college,” said Steve Kapelke, Provost and Vice President of Student Affairs. “This is not a move we enjoyed making, but it was necessary for us to be able to create the thinking space that’s going to be necessary over the next year to make sure we have a direction that’s consistent with the CJE’s mission, and fits within the budgetary constraints of the college.”

With fewer performances, the CJE will truly focus more on how to improve its relevance to students and its Chicago-wide audience.

“One of the things that’s really easy to think is that it’s all bad news, but if you really look at our budget and what we’re going to be able to do this year, we still have a lot of support from the college, and we have extremely diverse support from the funding community in Chicago and nationally,” Dumbleton said. “What we’re really doing is trying to re-imagine ourselves in the contemporary landscape because the fact is the economy has really affected the way arts presenters and producers work. To me, it’s a real reflection of what Columbia does as a college, which is saying ‘We’re living in the contemporary moment. What does that mean?’”

Restructuring the organization will include making programs and performances feel like they’re more than just a single concert, Dumbleton added.

“There’s a lot more around the history of jazz and what jazz artists are doing in other areas of society,” Dumbleton said. “For example, our program in November is going to be featuring contemporary artists from New Orleans. And as part of that, we’re going to work with the Gulf Restoration Network.”

In May, the Tribune reported Faddis was taken by surprise when he was notified, though The Chronicle was unable to reach him for comment.

Dumbleton and Kapelke agreed Faddis’ contribution to the ensemble and the jazz world has been unparalleled. His musicianship as well as willingness to mentor Chicago public school children will be sorely missed, they said.

“In the world scene, he was a young man in his teens who took the world by fire and didn’t burn out; he kept on going,” said Barry Winograd, who hosts jazz radio shows for WDCB 90.9 FM and WXRT 93.1 FM, along with working as an adjunct faculty member at Columbia in the Music Department.

“He was a man who followed in the footsteps of the great Dizzy Gillespie. At a very early age, he started to play lead trumpet and jazz trumpet with the greats in New York and he became a very special musician as a trumpet player and as a musician.”

Specifically, Faddis played lead trumpet for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra at the Village Vanguard and went on to form his own quartet. The United Nation Orchestra, the Dizzy Gillespie 70th Birthday Big Band and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band are among some of the ensembles Faddis has directed over the years.

Winograd, who teaches a class called The Jazz Tradition, admitted that while Faddis no longer directing the CJE is unfortunate, typically “in the jazz world no gigs last forever.”

The college asked Dana Hall, the music director for the CJE, and Dumbleton to focus for one year on making the CJE a sustainable organization.

“I think the broader way to see this is what Columbia is really doing for Chicago,” Dumbleton said. “They’re saying, ‘OK, here’s a jazz organization that would benefit from re-structuring and re-thinking its programs and from creating some new dynamics within those programs so that we can bring more to the city in the future. We all know that we’ve lost tons of nonprofits in this economy.”