By Heather Bedenko (Full disclosure: the author is Carlotta Schmidt’s mother!)
In early August, jazz legend Jon Faddis enthralled the Two River Theater’s audience for two nights with his exuberant trumpet playing. His quartet included: Destiny Diggs, mentored by Ron Carter, on upright bass; Andrew Latona, former student of Mr. Faddis at SUNY Purchase, on guitar; and Christopher Latona on drums. The two nights were the final nights of the Jazz Arts Project’s Summer Jazz Café series. If you haven’t attended before, mark your calendars for next summer! The Summer Jazz Café series is held in the intimate Joan and Robert Rechnitz Theater at the Two River Theater. It’s like your favorite NYC Jazz club but in your own backyard.
Among many standards played over the course of the two evenings, Mr. Faddis and his quartet enchanted the audience with a compelling arrangement of “All Blues” by Miles Davis featuring fierce soloing by Ms. Diggs. The quartet mesmerized listeners with the driving, rhythmic “Toccata,” written for Dizzy Gillespie, Mr. Faddis’ mentor. Jon Faddis is equally deft on ballads and up-tempo numbers with his sonorous playing. He also treated the audience to some compositions of his own including, “Teranga,” inviting four lucky listeners to join his quartet on stage for some enthusiastic dancing. On both evenings, Mr. Faddis entertained the audience in between songs with witty banter with the gathered crowd and stories about the songs and his epic jazz experiences. On those same two nights Mr. Faddis also opened a big door for fifteen-year-old vocalist and guitar player Carlotta Schmidt.
To see that door opening we have to step back to the afternoon of August 5th. For members of the JSJBF family, you know Carlotta Schmidt has been playing at our Youth Open Mic Nights for years and that she opened for our holiday party in December 2021 at McLoone’s Supper Club. Well, on August 5th and 6th she had a life-changing musical experience. It started with a master class with jazz legend Jon Faddis sponsored by the Jazz Arts Project/Jazz Arts Academy. The two-hour session ran 30 minutes over; Mr. Faddis offered tips and advice on how to play, study, approach, think about and perform music to all of the gathered students. Mr. Faddis also shared thoughtful critiques of the ensemble that Carlotta was part of that performed later that day, and the next night too, as the opening act for Mr. Faddis and his quartet. After the master class concluded Mr. Faddis and Carlotta had a long, one on one conversation about, among other things, music and vocalists Carlotta should study. When Mr. Faddis included “Aretha” on the list, Carlotta said, “I sing Chain of Fools out all the time” and proceeded to sing it for Mr. Faddis. He said that Carlotta was giving him goosebumps!
The first performance, on August 5th, started with a quartet assembled by the Jazz Arts Academy including Ben Peters on keys, Evan Callas on electric bass, Zach Lorelli (an instructor with the Jazz Arts Academy) on drums and Carlotta Schmidt on vocals and guitar. The quartet began with “Tenor Madness” featuring Ben on piano solos and Carlotta on guitar solos. For the second song Mr. Faddis surprised the audience (and the student ensemble!) by appearing on stage and taking a solo on “A Night in Tunisia!” Next was a sublime rendition of “Four.” The quartet concluded with a mellifluous version of “All of Me” featuring Carlotta on vocals and guitar. And that, Carlotta thought, concluded her performance for the evening.
During his set, Mr. Faddis talked with the audience about Carlotta. Congratulating her on her performance in the opening act. Joking that she was only fifteen but she’d been playing guitar for sixteen years, he suggested the audience “do the math!” Near the middle of his set Mr. Faddis invited Carlotta to the stage. She was completely surprised, even shocked. But up she rose and stepped on stage. He asked, “Do you know Summertime?” She said “Yes;” he said, “What key?” She said, “A minor.” Mr. Faddis stepped off the stage and sat in the audience (next to me in Carlotta’s vacated seat) and Andrew Latona played an intro to “Summertime” in A minor on guitar and Carlotta came in on her smooth, sweet vocals. She sang through the song; Andrew took a turn on a guitar solo; and then Carlotta sang through the entire melody again making slight changes to her phrasing and intonation the second time through, encouraged by Mr. Faddis with his bursts of beautiful, conversational trumpet accompaniment from his seat in the audience. Carlotta floated back to her seat. Later, Mr. Faddis asked Carlotta to sing part of “Chain of Fools” for the audience from her seat. She wowed the listeners with an a cappella verse and chorus. Later still Carlotta was again invited to the stage. This time the song was “How High the Moon” with the whole band backing her. She counted them in and then she took off! If you are familiar with Ella and Sara’s versions they play with forgetting the words and scatting. Carlotta did the same but distinctly made it her own and delighted her listeners. Mr. Faddis called Carlotta “Magnificent!”
The next night started similarly but with a twist. The ensemble’s bass player was unable to attend so Ms. Diggs kindly and gamely offered to play with the kids. They played the same set as the night before and enchanted the new audience. Carlotta excitedly joined her family in the audience to hear Mr. Faddis’ set for the second night. Thrillingly, for Carlotta, her family AND the audience, Carlotta was again invited to the stage during Mr. Faddis’ set. She sang a changed but equally spectacular version of “Summertime.” Later Mr. Faddis had Carlotta join him for improvised lyrics on a 12-bar blues; she accepted the challenge and her vocals soared! Then, Mr. Faddis asked Andrew Latona to allow Carlotta to borrow his guitar and she deftly soloed on the same blues tune for the enthusiastic listeners. During his gig, when Mr. Faddis was speaking to Carlotta, and the audience, he noted that he first played with his mentor, Dizzy Gillespie, when he was fifteen…and here was fifteen-year-old Carlotta playing with Mr. Faddis.
At the end of the second evening, Carlotta, and her family, had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Faddis and his lovely and engaging wife, Laurelyn. Carlotta felt seen and heard and appreciated; her years of dedicated study and playing were paying off in spectacular fashion. Our family collectively felt that the two nights had been magical. Carlotta added that the nights were life changing and she said, “It is going to be hard to get back to normal life after THIS!”