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John Fedchock Marks Milestones with His New York Big Band

Concert at Birdland in NYC celebrates the band’s 30th anniversary and the trombonist’s 65th birthday

John Fedchock Big Band 2022
John Fedchock (standing with trombone) leads his New York Big Band at Birdland, Sept. 18, 2022 (photo: Dan Bilawsky)

The mood was understandably festive as John Fedchock’s New York Big Band took to the stage at Birdland on Sunday, September 18. Not only was the lauded bandleader and trombonist celebrating his 65th birthday, but he was also commemorating the anniversary of his ensemble’s commencement.

Exactly 30 years prior—to the day—Fedchock started the recording sessions that would yield his debut big-band album. That program, focusing exclusively on his originals and arrangements, and featuring a good number of his peers, marked the beginning of a new chapter for the noted Woody Herman alum. “That day that we walked into the studio was really the birth of the band,” he explained to JazzTimes before the show. “At the time it wasn’t even called the New York Big Band. But after the first album [which had that title], people started referring to the group that way. That was really when it all began.” 

Looking back across three decades without getting mired in the past, Fedchock managed to cover all bases during a bravura 90-minute set that touched on music from each of the group’s five albums, added a new chart to the mix, put his own slide in the spotlight, and showcased the overwhelming majority of the musicians, half of whom have been with him since the dawn of the outfit and almost all of whom have been in the ranks for more than 25 years.

Kicking things off with the swinging title track from 2007’s Up & Running, Fedchock opened up a blowing session that included notable stands from trumpeter Scott Wendholt and saxophonists Mark Vinci and Rich Perry. The freshly penned “Whatever You See” followed, setting the band on a straight-time course with the leader and trumpeter Tony Kadleck in the foreground. Boisterous shuffle “Big Bruiser” from 2002’s No Nonsense came third, delivering a show highlight with trombonist Clark Gayton’s brawny, in-the-pocket soloing.

That introductory triptych of originals underscored both consistency and development in the ensemble’s sound; the remaining two thirds of the program, further emphasizing those seemingly paradoxical elements, triumphed while traveling through different styles. Fedchock’s version of the Gershwin classic “Embraceable You,” which the trombonist had arranged for his mother’s 80th birthday, offered coloristic charms and space for Barry Ries’ flugelhorn and Allen Farnham’s rhapsodic piano. “Elvin’s Empire,” written shortly after Elvin Jones’ passing, tapped into the spirit of the classic John Coltrane Quartet as Dennis Mackrel proved commanding behind the kit. And an up-tempo take on “Limehouse Blues,” the first tune the group ever played on a stage and the opening number on New York Big Band, added a serious wow factor with the heated exchange between baritone bigwig Scott Robinson and tenorist Troy Roberts.

Inviting percussionist Bobby Sanabria to join the ensemble for its last three numbers, Fedchock used the set’s final stretch to focus on the Latin side of his oeuvre. On “That’s All Right!,” from 1997’s On the Edge, Wendholt and saxophonist Charles Pillow (on soprano) stepped forward both before and after the conguero captivated with his handwork. For “Havana,” the first of two picks from 2015’s Like It Is, Fedchock charmed as melodist and soloist. And on the way out of the slide ace’s arrangement of Cedar Walton’s “Ojos de Rojo”—an explosive “Afro-Cuban flag-waver”—a percussive coda brought the house down.

While reminiscing in the lead-up to this momentous gig, Fedchock was also eager to discuss the New York Big Band’s future: “The last time we performed before this was 2019. So it was like a family reunion when we got together to rehearse. These particular folks hadn’t been together in a long time. There were some really great moments when we were working through new music at rehearsals, and I’m excited to get back in the studio with the band.”

Before & After with John Fedchock

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.