Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 65 - John Fedchock
In 1974, Woody Herman and his Orchestra were in Cleveland for a series of performances. While they were here, they went to Mayfield High School on Wilson Mills Road to play a concert and to put on a clinic. In the front row was an 11th grader from Highland Heights who was playing trombone in the school bands. He was excited about the music and the Herman band, and got the autographs of all the players on a record cover. He began collecting Woody Herman records and Herman became his musical idol.
After he graduated from Mayfield High School in 1975, the young trombonist -- John Fedchock -- went to Ohio State University where he got a degree in music and education and then, began studying for a masters degree at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. At Eastman, Fedchock met some people who knew some of the players on the Herman band who had gone to Eastman. Fedchock sent a tape to Gene Smith who was then Herman's lead trombonist.
In the summer of 1980, while he was still studying at Eastman, Fedchock received a call at four o'clock in the morning, asking if he wanted to join the Herman band. He got a leave of absence from Eastman and joined the touring Woody Herman Orchestra in Chicago. For the young trombonist from Highland Heights, it was a dream come true.
From his record collection, Fedchock already knew most of the Herman band's book. He said, "I even had some of my parts memorized." Reading the arrangements was no problem.
By the second night, Herman started calling the 22-year-old Clevelander "Too Tall John" and began featuring him frequently on solos. At the Concord Jazz Festival in August of 1981, Fedchock soloed with the Herman band on "North Beach Breakdown."
Fedchock was touring the nation with Woody Herman and his Orchestra, playing concerts, dances and radio broadcasts. "Woody never told us in advance what tunes we would play," said Fedchock, "but, the band would know what the upcoming number was after a couple of words of the little rap he gave the audience."
After touring with the Herman Herd for a couple of years, Fedchock wrote his first arrangement for the band, a tune called "Fried Buzzard."
In 1985, when Woody was doing a small group tour, Fedchock returned to Eastman and finished up his masters. Five months later, he returned to the Herman Orchestra and became Herman's music director and an arranger. He did 16 or 17 charts for the band. Looking back, Fedchock said, "Woody really didn't like to do the old stuff."
In a radio interview, Herman said, "We try to find new material and try to find things that are reasonably new and different. I think that I would have lost interest a long, long time ago if I had to be very stylized and stick to a particular sound." In fact, according to Fedchock, Herman was bugged when people requested the old tunes. One time at a dance hall in Iowa, a customer complained to Woody that he wasn't playing the old big band hits. Fedchock said Woody asked the man, "What did it cost you to get in here?" Woody whipped out a twenty dollar bill, gave it to the man, and said, "See you later, Pal!"
In Herman's autobiography, Woodchopper's Ball, Fedchock was quoted as saying, "Woody would ride on the bus occasionally, but he didn't interact too much with the guys. His only rule was to get on the stand and swing and play great. That was it." On the bandstand, he wouldn't say anything, but the Clevelander remembered, "You could tell from how he was looking at someone in the band if he wasn't digging it." If he wasn't digging a solo, "he'd bring forward a second guy to play it, just to show the first guy, 'Hey, you're not making it.' He didn't have to say anything."
Fedchock remained with the Herman band for seven years, from 1980 until Woody's death in 1987. He later toured with Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band, Louie Bellson's big band and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band.
In 1989, Fedchock and fellow Eastman graduate Maria Schneider formed a band together.
In the 1990s, Fedchock formed his own band, the New York Big Band, and began recording with it in 1995. One of the tunes on the band's second CD, On The Edge, is entitle "The Chopper," one of Woody Herman's nicknames. Fedchock wrote "The Chopper" to honor his boss at a Carnegie Hall concert. John said he tried to "evoke the feeling of some of the great medium-groove charts we played with the (Herman) band." In the Down Beat magazine Readers' Poll, John Fedchock was voted among the top trombonists in jazz in both 1999 and 2000. Both years, his band was voted the number five big band. He was also considered among the top big band arrangers.
The Greater Cleveland native who first saw and heard the Woody Herman Orchestra when he was a 16-year-old 11th grader at Mayfield High School, had become a major player in the jazz world.
Copyright 2001 Joe Mosbrook
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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available at some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-426-9900).