In this day and age, if you can keep a quality big band together for going on two decades—with many of the charter players still aboard—you deserve a measure of respect. If you are also an exciting arranger, a versatile composer and a top-notch player, respect begins to nudge against awe.
John Fedchock has carried the big band sound into the 21st century with his New York Big Band, and he’ll be out in front of the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra this weekend in a rare New Mexico appearance.
Fedchock’s love affair with big band began in 1974 when he saw Woody Herman and His Orchestra live. “It was kind of a shock,” he says, “because at that time, I thought the big bands were just something from the ’40s that were long gone, like a museum piece. But his band was very fresh and exciting, playing not only his classic hits, but they were playing very modern things by Chick Corea and John Coltrane and some of the fusion things in the ’70s.”
Fedchock set his sights on playing with the Herman band, and he became a member in 1980, staying until Herman’s death in 1987. During that time, he served as musical director and a featured soloist, as well as musical coordinator and chief arranger in the production of Herman’s last two Grammy-nominated albums, 50th Anniversary Tour and Woody’s Gold Star.
Once he moved to New York, Fedchock put the New York Big Band together as an outlet for his composing in 1989. Three CDs, Fedchock’s 2003 Grammy nomination for best instrumental arranging and a host of major international gigs later, the band, fueled by the leader’s contemporary compositions and arrangements in a wide variety of styles, has achieved worldwide recognition. (Their excellent fourth CD, Up and Running, will be released on March 20.)
As a player, Fedchock displays a virtuosic command of his instrument, spinning out fluid, well-articulated lines that are tightly logical but with a loose and easy feel. “That’s the key in jazz, anyway. You want it to be comfortable, relaxed and conversational,” he says.
He’ll be conversing with the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra in Saturday’s concert, presented by the New Mexico Jazz Workshop. The 18-piece orchestra, led by musical director John Sanks, has been around even longer than Fedchock’s group—since 1981—and includes several of the city’s music educators and some of the most accomplished players in the region. They’ll be playing several Fedchock compositions and arrangements. The band will feature Sanks (trombone), Glenn Miller Band alumnus Lee Taylor (alto sax), Brad Dubbs (trumpet), Kent Erickson (trumpet), Ed Ulman (trombone) and Maynard Ferguson alumnus Chris Ishee (piano), among others.
The concert is the crowning event of the Albuquerque Jazz Festival, a three-day event hosted by Eldorado High School, where Sanks is musical director, featuring area middle and high school bands in performance and competition. The festival kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 15, with a concert that features Fedchock playing with several of the bands. Competitions are scheduled for Friday (middle school) and Saturday (high school). Fedchock will also conduct a clinic on Saturday at 2 p.m. All events are open to the public.