John Fedchock: Dedicated to Clifford Brown
“ Clifford's soloing was impeccable. There hasn't been a trumpeter since that doesn't owe something to Clifford Brown. ”
On October 30, 31 and November 1, 2008, the University of the Arts will hold an exciting symposium and series of concerts dedicated to the memory of the great trumpeter, Clifford Brown. This interview, with trombonist/big band leader John Fedchock, is the second of two interviews conducted in advance of this event, sponsored by the University of the Arts and the Philadelphia Jazz Heritage Project, the first being with legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson.
At the performance, Fedchock will be premiering a new big band composition dedicated to Clifford Brown, featuring the Lars Halle Big Band and trumpeter Jon Barnes.
The Influence of Clifford Brown: Fedchock's New Composition
All About Jazz: How did you first get interested in Clifford Brown and his music? Which of his recordings are your favorites?
John Fedchock: I've been a fan of Clifford Brown since I first heard his recordings back when I was in college. I first picked up a Mercury EmArcy collection called The Quintet (1954), which included many of his most well-known solos and arrangements, including those that became my favorites from the Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street (Emarcy, 1956) recording. When I went on the road with Woody Herman at age 22, there was a trumpeter on the band named Mark Lewis, who was a Clifford Brown expert with two transcription books out. Hearing him play each night whetted my appetite even further to delve deeper into Clifford's legacy.
AAJ: What do you see as Brown's impact on modern jazz? Did he influence your trombone playing?
JF: Clifford's soloing was impeccable. There hasn't been a trumpeter since that doesn't owe something to Clifford Brown. His playing significantly affected the development and evolution of the modern jazz trumpeter, and in turn, the rest of the jazz world. His playing has affected my trombone playing, if not through specific content, in attention to detail. Every note of Clifford's counted, and every line made sophisticated musical sense. I try to hold myself to that same standard, which is the ultimate challenge.
AAJ: Tell us about the composition you're preparing for the Clifford Brown event in Philadelphia. How did it come about? What is the underlying concept or idea? How is it structured? What is the instrumentation? Is this going to be the premiere performance?
JF: When I was asked to write this piece, the request from those organizing the Symposium was to compose a piece that would be "influenced and informed" by Clifford's music. My first thoughts were of my favorite Clifford tunes, arrangements and solos, and many of those ideas became motifs from which to build the themes and form of the composition. I studied his music intently, and pulled out small ideas from solos and tunes, as well as looking at chord changes to his own tunes and standards he frequently played to better construct a harmonic base that would be similar to a framework that Clifford might choose to solo over.
I also took some ideas from his arrangements and even pulled out some things played by his sidemen, including Sonny Rollins. My goal was to write something original that had a Clifford familiarity about it. Clifford devotees will recognize bits and pieces if they listen carefully, but that's definitely not a prerequisite to enjoying the piece. The instrumentation is a standard big band with 5 saxophones, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones and piano/bass/drums. This performance will be the world premiere.
AAJ: The composition will be performed by the Lars Halle Big Band with [trumpeter] Marcus Belgrave. Did they have any influence on your composing?
JF: I've never worked with Lars' big band, but I have heard a nice CD of his, and have heard some wonderful things from musicians in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area about the band. I know many of the players that will be working with the band, and in some cases have played with them in other contexts. I'm looking forward to working with this band. Marcus Belgrave will be performing earlier in the program that evening, but will not be performing on my piece. The trumpet soloist for my piece will be Jon Barnes, a former student of George Rabbai at Rowan University, and now a graduate student at the Manhattan School of Music studying with Scott Wendholt. He's a wonderful player, and I'm sure will give my piece an exciting performance. The piece will also include a tenor sax solo by Victor North, along with some room for Lars at the drums.
AAJ: As the big band performs your work, what would you like them to be striving to express?
JF: To best reflect the spirit of Clifford's music, and execute the piece accurately, the band will need to combine two important elementsprecision and excitement. The piece was written with an overall hard bop concept, but it also gets a bit more modern in spots, so conceptually the band will need to be stylistically informed and musically flexible.
AAJ: Are you going to be present at the performance? Will you aid in rehearsals?
JF: That is all still in the works. My hope is to be at the initial read-through and final rehearsal, to give my thoughts regarding concept and to what we're shooting for stylistically. I also hope to be involved in conducting the piece at the premiere.
About John Fedchock