Interrupting the holidays and the flow of benign cartoon Christmas cards posted here comes the sad news today of the death of jazz trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard.
Freddie Hubbard, 70, energetic jazz trumpeter
By Peter Keepnews
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Freddie Hubbard, a jazz trumpeter who dazzled audiences and critics alike with his virtuosity, his melodicism and his infectious energy, died Monday in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 70.
The cause was complications of a heart attack he had Nov. 26, said his spokesman, Don Lucoff of DL Media.
Over a career that began in the late 1950s, Hubbard earned both critical praise and commercial success - although rarely for the same projects.
He attracted attention in the 1960s for his bravura work as a member of the Jazz Messengers, the valuable training ground for young musicians led by the veteran drummer Art Blakey, and on albums by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and many others. He also recorded several well-regarded albums as a leader. And although he was not an avant-gardist by temperament, he participated in three of the seminal recordings of the 1960s jazz avant-garde: Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" (1960), Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" (1964) and John Coltrane's "Ascension" (1965).
In the 1970s Hubbard, like many other jazz musicians of his generation, began courting a larger audience, with albums that featured electric instruments, rock and funk rhythms, string arrangements and repertory sprinkled with pop and R&B songs like Paul McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and the Stylistics' "Betcha by Golly, Wow." His audience did indeed grow, but his standing in the jazz world diminished.
By the start of the next decade he had largely abandoned his more commercial approach and returned to his jazz roots. But his career came to a virtual halt in 1992 when he damaged his lip, and although he resumed performing and recording after an extended hiatus, he was never again as powerful a player as he had been in his prime.
Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born on April 7, 1938, in Indianapolis. His first instrument was the alto-brass mellophone, and in high school he studied French horn and tuba as well as trumpet.
After taking lessons with Max Woodbury, the first trumpeter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, he performed locally with, among others, the guitarist Wes Montgomery and his brothers.
Hubbard moved to New York in 1958 and almost immediately began working with groups led by the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the drummer Philly Joe Jones and others. His profile rose in 1960 when he joined the roster of Blue Note, a leading jazz label; it rose further the next year when he was hired by Blakey, widely regarded as the music's premier talent scout.
Adding his own spin to a style informed by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, Hubbard played trumpet with an unusual mix of melodic inventiveness and technical razzle-dazzle. The critics took notice. Leonard Feather called him "one of the most skilled, original and forceful trumpeters of the '60s."
After leaving Blakey's band in 1964, Hubbard worked for a while with another drummer-bandleader, Max Roach, before forming his own group in 1966. Four years later he began recording for CTI, a record company that would soon become known for its aggressive efforts to market jazz musicians beyond the confines of the jazz audience.
Hubbard won a Grammy Award for the album "First Light" in 1972 and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.
He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Briggie Hubbard, and his son, Duane.
Hubbard was once known as the brashest of jazzmen, but his personality as well as his music mellowed in the wake of his lip problems. In a 1995 interview with Fred Shuster of Down Beat, Hubbard offered some sober advice to younger musicians: "Don't make the mistake I made of not taking care of myself. Please, keep your chops cool and don't overblow."
Elsa and I were lucky enough to see Freddie Hubbard perform on his 70th, and what now turns out to be his last, birthday earlier this year at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood.
I wrote and illustrated a comic book about that experience which I had planned to share with you on the blog this coming year.
Here is a small slice of it, showing Freddie as part of the lineage of great trumpet kings that stretched all the way back to Buddy Bolden in New Orleans.
Here is a video of young Freddie at the height of his powers with Art Blakey from Italian television in the early '60's playing "Moanin".
Freddie Hubbard & Art Blakey - Moanin'
We're all moanin' today with the news of his death. But celebrating his life and the incredible amount of great music he made and left behind for us all to enjoy.