Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio and Jon Faddis Quartet with special guests review- Jazz Improvisation at Symphony Center, Chicago

Pharez Whitted Jazz Trumpet.

On June 7, 2019, jazz legend Dr. Lonnie Smith, 77, and his trio opened for the equally renowned Jon Faddis and his quartet including special guests at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago. The concert concluded the 25th Symphony Center Presents Jazz series. 

Tackling covers and originals, the B-3 Hammond Organ and soul jazz superstar Smith delighted audiences with dramatic gestures, unusual melodic side steps, and ebullient good nature. While “the venerable funk and jazz organist” provided the centrifugal force between himself, Downbeat award-winning jazz guitarist Dave Stryker and  New Orleans drummer Joe Dyson, there was a thorough sense of shared aesthetic between these fine performers. The music was sweet and slick, filled with hypnotizing melodic improvisation and extended solos.

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Hammond B-3 organ master

The second half of the concert was dominated by the music of world class trumpeter Jon Faddis, protégé of the great Dizzy Gillespie, about whom Gillespie said, “He’s the best ever, including me!” Faddis is known for his incredible and unparalleled range and his amazing mastery of the trumpet. His quartet, made up of David Hazeltine, piano; Kiyoshi Kiyagawa, bass; and Rodney Green, drums, joined forces with three other virtuoso trumpeters, Canadian Juno award winning Ingrid Jensen; Chair, Brass Department, Berklee College of Music Tanya Darby;and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra director Pharez Whitted, each of whom were given the opportunity to shine solo as well as to blow the light fantastic along with Faddis. The extraordinarily affable and soft-spoken Faddis gave credit to colleagues on and offstage and in the audience, and he and his ensemble brought down the house with his extended riffs.

Among the jazz standards they performed were a soft and sultry I thought about you, by Jimmy Van Heusen, 1939,  (with lyrics written by Johnny Mercer on a train on his way to Chicago to play with Benny Goodman), and Dizzy Gillespie’s own A Night in Tunisia, 1942 (also known as Interlude), a signature of his bebop big band, allegedly composed “on the cover of a garbage can”. 

Jon Faddis; photo by John Abbott

What exactly does it mean for a musician to produce improvised jazz? What special abilities do musicians like these have that enable them to consistently reach for new combinations, to push back barriers, to establish new frontiers in their medium while simultaneously remaining in total control of the instrumentation?

In the case of the players in this particular concert, we start with a number of individuals who have a sumptuous knowledge of the permutations and history of jazz, and are very well schooled in/have a deep command of their instruments. Further, they shared the stage in various combinations easily and elegantly. Add a sensibility of fearlessness with playfulness and the result is free, moving, and splendid music.

Tanya Darby

Scientists have begun to study that “jaw-dropping” quality when improv begins and jazz musicians instantly and immediately create a piece of music that has never before been demonstrated, generating in listeners “a sense of surprise”. It’s been discovered that when musicians improvise, the part of the brain responsible for self-inhibition becomes dormant, while the portions of the brain that allow humans to express themselves become more active. Obviously, the creative process in jazz improvisation is very different from the process of rote memorization.

This was an extremely enjoyable double bill, bringing the jazz season at Symphony Center to a close until the fall, when next season’s terrific program will open. For information and tickets to all the great programming of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to www.cso.org

Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

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