For Jon Faddis, a then-budding, wide-eyed trumpeter, his watershed moment occurred when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself on a Dallas stage in 1968.
Faddis had seen John "Dizzy" Gillespie perform. He had listened to virtually every album the man produced; he had even seen the jazz icon in-person once before, exiting the moment too nervous to speak.
But nothing could have completely prepared him for what was soon to be.
Following a referral by an industry contact, and a successful audition, the 15-year-old musician from Oakland, California found himself sharing a stage with his boyhood idol and a man that would eventually become his mentor.
“Dizzy Gillespie inspired me to get into music,” Faddis said. “From that moment on, I knew that this, becoming a jazz player, is what I wanted to do.”
More than four decades have passed since that night in Texas, years that saw Faddis carve his own mark on the history of jazz, but the moment has never been forgotten.
The world-renowned trumpet player, conductor, composer and educator now finds himself in a reversed role, spending time helping young musicians learn how to maximize their own ability.
It is that duty that brought Faddis to Statesboro Thursday, where he conducted a master class for about 30 aspiring artists in hopes of providing them a life-changing, watershed moment all their own.
Faddis sat informally perched atop the Emma Kelly Theater stage at the Averitt Center of the Arts, where for more than two hours the world-class trumpeter and purveyor of musical knowledge shared with students — ages ranging from 11 to 21 — and a group of music educators his philosophies on music and on life.
“When you really touch someone’s heart, really touch their spirit, that is what I like,” he said — telling his story to an audience that filled the theater’s bottom rows to hear him speak. “And that is what I hope to impart to you young musicians.”
Faddis says he conducts classes around the country, when not performing with The Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York, to provide rising musicians with the same opportunity given to him: a chance to learn from, and play with, a master and legend of the craft.
“Teaching is something I enjoy doing,” Faddis said. “When I would observe people like Clark Terry or Benny Carter, Frank Foster or Thad Jones, they were always willing to teach. And it was all free because they love and respect the music. And that’s what I try to do. I try to continue in their footsteps.”
Thursday, Faddis spoke at length about his history, breaking only to playfully interact with the crowd or drop the occasional quirky joke.
His quips included: telling the students where the first French fries were made — “in grease,” of course — and why the dime decided not to follow the nickel in leaping off New York’s Empire State Building — it clearly “had more cents.”
After a long introduction, came the instruction.
Faddis invited the few students who had brought along their horns to join him at the base of the stage for a chance to play.
“You might not have this opportunity ever again,” he warned.
One by one they came forth, were asked to play and were each given useful tips — or marching orders (in one case, quite literally).
For Georgia Southern University student Brandon Hall, 20, the tips were aplenty.
Faddis preached the importance of practicing proper posture — lowering shoulders, breathing, tucking the chin, standing and projecting — and technique.
“Above all,” he said, “study the work of legends.”
“The thing I would remind every one of is: you have to listen to great music. You listen to Maurice Andre and how he plays the melody on the piccolo trumpet. You listen to Adolf Herseth, the first trumpet with the Chicago symphony,” Faddis continued. “But you also listen to Louis Armstrong. You listen to Jean Pierre Rampal or James Galway play the flute.”
Hall, who hopes to one day become a jazz musician himself, also took a good-natured beating — multiple slaps on the shoulder — for not being able to recall some trumpet fundamentals.
The slaps weren’t enough to dampen his spirit though.
“(Working with Faddis) was great,” Hall said. “A little nerve-racking, but he is a really nice guy. I got so much out of this. There were so many things that I have never even thought of before.”
Alex Clifford, 14, a student at Statesboro High School, was the recipient of a little on-the-job training. Shortly after playing and being taught techniques for improving his finger strength, Clifford was given the directive to march 10 laps around the theater while performing a breathing exercise — a maneuver once practiced by Herbert L. Clarke, a well-known American cornet player, according to Faddis.
“It was fun,” Clifford said. “I had a chance to meet and learn from one of my heroes.”
Clifford says he plans on using the information he learned going forward, as he looks to a career playing classical music.
For others, the instruction was more basic.
Justin White, 11, learned how to form a proper embouchure — the technique for shaping lips to fit the instrument’s mouthpiece.
White, a sixth grade student at William James Middle School, was the youngest in attendance.
“I thought it was fun,” White said. “I was able to learn some new skills.”
Faddis collected the boy’s mailing information in order to send him an instructional guide and DVD for playing the trumpet.
Throughout the class, Faddis never ran dry on instruction — whether guiding students to “slow down,” reminding them to not play through mistakes when practicing, but work repeatedly to correct them, or simply focus on getting better.
“The most important aspect is this,” he said, pointing to his head. “Some people say playing the trumpet is 75 percent mental, some say 90 percent. I say it is 100 percent mental. If you do not have the right focus, the right attitude and right mindset, it is not going to get better.”
He stressed, above all else, the importance of being passionate, dedicated and simply a lover and appreciator of music.
“What does it take to get to the next level,” he asked. “It takes a lot of dedication and passion to be a musician.
“Musicians are not musicians because they want to make a lot of money,” Faddis said. “They are musicians because they love the music, the way it makes them feel and the interaction with other musicians and the audience.”
“Music is so very, very powerful,” he reminded students. “Just think about a world without music. It would be a sad, sad world.”
Following the session, Faddis was led down East Main Street to Sugar Magnolia Bakery & Cafe by a group of students to continue the lessons and sample a taste of Statesboro.
He remained in town to perform with the Georgia Southern University Band in a one-night-only concert at the Averitt Center on Friday night.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.