Friday, April 9, 2010

Celebrating Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard (trumpet; b. 1938 - d. 2008)

This week would have been Freddie Hubbard's 72nd birthday (April 7th). Yes, I probably should have written this early but things happen...

Freddie Hubbard was one fiercest hard bop players around. As some may know he was heavily influenced by the great Clifford Brown and Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. But Hubbard would develop his own voice very quickly and would become a major influence on a new generation of trumpeters today (Ryan Kisor, Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, et el.).

Freddie Hubbard performed with a host of legendary jazz musicians including John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Herbie Hancock to name just a few. Hubbard's style was robust, exuberant and well rounded; much more so than many of his contemporaries. When he played you knew it. I was lucky enough to see one of his last concerts and while he had definitely lost allot of his chops--due to a serious lip infection/injury during the 90s--you could still feel the powerful and energy in his performance. Freddie Hubbard like many of the legends of the '50s and '60s hard bop era played in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers before branching out on his own to record some stellar work for Blue Note Records.

Freddie Hubbard's first album, Open Sesame (Blue Note; 1960) is must have for any fan of jazz. It features some fantastic phrasing from Hubbard but also incredible performances from fellow greats McCoy Tyner (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Clifford Jarvis (drums) and the highly under-rated Tina Brooks (sax) who wrote two wonderful tracks, "Open Sesame" and "Gypsy Blue". Hubbard contributed the lovely closing piece "Hub's Nub which features some exciting solo work that for me is staggering ever time I listen to it.

You could say the Blue Note years saw Hubbard at his peak--you might be wrong. In the 70's Hubbard signed with the CTI/Epic Records after a brief unsuccessful period with Atlantic Records in the late 60s. The albums he produced for CTI would become some of his most commercially successful of his career.

One of the critics and my favourites is Red Clay (CTI; 1970) is a double-edged sword. It can easily be seen as a response to the direction jazz was going in after Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and even some of the work of contemporary Donald Byrd with the collision of funk, soul and jazz. It can also been seen as the trumpeter really taking to the new sub-genre and making it his own in one session.

There's a host of killer performances on this album including the interplay between Joe Henderson (sax) and Hubbard. The album also featured a who's who of jazz greats: Herbie Hancock (piano), Stanley Turrentine (sax), Johnny Smith (organ), George Benson (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), Lenny White, Billy Cobham (drums) and Airto Moreira (percussion)--all I have to say is wow! The album is obviously highlighted by the funky almost psychedelic blues of the title track but you can solid mixture of his crisp Blue Note playing in an updated more rhythmic arena. This isn't completely a funk record by "funk/soul" standards. It's an album built on the soul of the musician with some terrific grooves laid in by his friends.

While the 80s were sporadic for recording and the injury to his lip finally took its toll on the legend, Freddie Hubbard's final two albums still show he could play in with the young cats. The albums, New Colours (Hip Bop) and On The Real Side (Four Quarters) both feature Hubbard running through some previously recorded material but with the help of a new generation which included Kenny Garrett and Javon Jackson (sax) Steve Davis (trombone), Joe Chambers (drums) and Russell Malone (guitar) among others. These two album are not essential in the canon of Freddie Hubbard but they are well worth listening to after you've experience some of his others.

His love of the trumpet and playing never die and it always should right up to his final days. Freddie Hubbard was a remarkable musician with a catalog that stands up against many of the other legends in jazz and should not be overlooked. Happy Birthday Freddie.

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