Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born April 7th 1938, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Freddie played mellophone and then trumpet in his school band, studying at the Jordan Conservatory with the principal trumpeter of the local symphony. He worked as a teenager with Wes and Monk Montgomery, and eventually founded his own first band, the Jazz Contemporaries, with bassist Larry Ridley and saxophonist James Spaulding. Moving to New York in 1958 at the age of 20, he quickly astonished fans and critics alike with the depth and maturity of his playing working with veteran jazz artists Philly Joe Jones (1958-59, 1961), Sonny Rollins (1959), Slide Hampton (1959-60), J.J. Johnson (1960), Eric Dolphy, and Quincy Jones, with whom he toured Europe (1960-61). He was barely 22 when he recorded Open Sesame, his solo debut for Blue Note Records (on the recommendation of Miles Davis), in June 1960. That album, featuring Tina Brooks and McCoy Tyner, set the stage for one of the more meteoric careers in jazz. Within the next 10 months, Hubbard recorded his second album, Goin' Up, with Hank Mobley and McCoy Tyner, and a third, Hub Cap, with Julian Priester and Jimmy Heath. Four months later, in August 1961, he made what many consider his masterpiece, Ready for Freddie, which was also his first Blue Note collaboration with Wayne Shorter. That same year, he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (replacing Lee Morgan). Freddie had quickly established himself as an important new voice in jazz. While earning a reputation as a hard-blowing young lion, he had developed his own sound, distancing himself from the early influence of Clifford Brown and Miles Davis and won Down Beat's "New Star" award on trumpet.
He remained with Blakey until 1964, leaving to form his own small group, which over the next few years featured Kenny Barron and Louis Hayes. Throughout the 60s he also played in bands led by others, including Max Roach. Hubbard was also a significant presence on Herbie Hancock's Blue Note recordings beginning with the pianist's debut as a leader, Takin' Off, and continuing on Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage. He was also featured on four classic, groundbreaking 1960s sessions: Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth, Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, and John Coltrane's Ascension during that time.
Freddie achieved his greatest popular success in the 1970s with a series of crossover albums on Atlantic and CTI Records. His early 70s jazz albums for CTI, Red Clay, First Light and Straight Life were particularly well received and First Light won a Grammy Award. He returned to the acoustic, hard bop arena with his 1977 tour with the V.S.O.P. quintet, which teamed him with the members of the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet; Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter. In the 80s Hubbard was again leading his own jazz groups, attracting very favorable notices for his playing at concert halls and festivals in the USA, Europe, and Japan, often in the company of Joe Henderson, playing a repertory of hard-bop and modal-jazz pieces. He also collaborated with fellow trumpet legend Woody Shaw for a series of albums for the Blue Note and Timeless labels. An exceptionally talented virtuoso performer, Hubbard's rich full tone is never lost, even when he plays dazzlingly fast passages. As one of the greatest hard bop trumpeters, he strives to create impassioned blues lines without losing the contemporary context within which he plays. He is perhaps one of the greatest technical trumpet players ever to play in the jazz idiom and arguably the most influential.
Freddie Hubbard was part of the talented post bop wave often (then) referred to as “The Young Lions.” Unlike the generation of greats before them, they were not all of one “school” and many would continue to evolve through the ensuing decades. The emergence of Blue Note Records as a true power in the jazz world also had a part in shaping the musical community of this time. Blue Note's policy of paid rehearsals allowed for their artists to concentrate more on original compositions of greater complexity. The emerging technology also worked in their favor. The long-playing discs were now standard (for all labels), allowing musicians/composers to fully realize their artistic ideas. In this climate of exploration and collaboration would be introduced inflections of modernist chamber music-like pieces and world music flavorings. This was Blue Note and their stable of artist in the late 50s / early 60s. The close of the decade would see further explorations with (in some opinions) artists going electric and losing their way, or, becoming too bogged down in commercial considerations.
Freddie Hubbard had a jazz pedigree that is truly impressive. Where and who he has appeared with, this sizeable body of work, includes many albums which would be on the aficionado's top ten list. He got his start with one of trombonist J.J Johnson's groups. He was also seen early on with Dexter Gordon, in Dexter's first Blue Note album, Doin' Alright. His most steady home initially was on the front line of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Many of the people Freddie worked with early on had also been in Art Blakey's band, a sort of jazz college they all attended, just not necessarily at the same time.
Another inherent strength of both Blue Note and, in general the jazz world at this time, was a steady stable of artists who appeared on each other's albums, creating an artistic familiarity greatly to everyone's advantage. There was an almost tangible connection among these artists, inspiring and borrowing from each other over the course of cross connecting informal partnerships. During this period, Freddie Hubbard was part of the holy trinity of trumpet greats (Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd) sharing this generation's Mount Rushmore.
Personally, the appeal of Freddie Hubbard lay not only in his chops and tone, but his compositions too. While his peers would occasionally venture into extended forward thinking pieces (Donald Byrd's A New Perspective, Lee Morgan's Search for the New Land, Hank Mobley's Thinking of Home), his albums often featured multi-horn front lines playing harmonically complex pieces that combine sophistication with emotion. His debut album, Breaking Point (Blue Note), was the first made after leaving the Jazz Messengers and introduced the important partnership he would have with flautist/alto sax player James Spaulding. Freddie would go on to incorporate even larger instrumental lineups into his compositions and recordings, often including James.
During this time, there was a never accurately named jazz emerging from musicians who had far transcended being just entertainers. It was traditional jazz instruments now often combining with less obvious ones. They were playing music which merged the roots of jazz and blues with something new, a modern chamber-type sound far different from the once novel third stream marriage of classical and jazz. This music also embraced some of the discordance of the free-jazz movement and some of the harmonically complex ideas which had been the cornerstone of Europe's 20th century classical composers, all the while maintaining the exciting air of improvisation, one of jazz's key ingredients.
Through no fluke, Freddie appeared on a lot of these albums, enriching them with his own take on this complex, heady amalgam. Both Freddie's writing and playing really seemed to shine on larger ensemble pieces. John Coltrane's Ole (1961), perhaps one of jazz's most epic statements, included him. Ole was a rarer large ensemble effort for John Coltrane, containing his core “classic quartet” and also making use of multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy and added bassist Art Davis. Soon after, Eric Dolphy would recruit Freddie to play on his own classic Out to Lunch along with Bobby Hutcherson, who would also incorporate Freddie into his band for his first album as leader.
Aside from James Spaulding, another important musical connection was made with Herbie Hancock. Herbies' 1964 debut album as a leader, Empyrean Isles, featured a saxless group, with Freddie achieving a richer sound by substituting on cornet. The rest of the group was what would become core ingredients in Miles Davis's immortal free-bop group. The follow-up album, Maiden Voyage, had the immediate precursor to Miles Davis's free-bop group, including Wayne Shorter's predecessor and short-lived member of the band, George Coleman on tenor sax.
In the late 1970s the full free-bop group with Freddie in place of Miles would tour under the banner of VSOP. All the members of the band had been voted best at their instrument, which is what birthed the name. They would release two live albums, VSOP--The Quintet Live and the only recently available VSOP Live Under The Sky, the latter of which is said to be one of if not the first direct digital live recording. It was recorded at the Denen Coliseum in Tokyo and the energy of the 10,000 fans who braved the rain is palatable. Unlike some of his peers, Freddie Hubbard was not better or worse when comparing studio to live performances. He always seems to intuitively know the best approach for the situation.
There is a lot of debate about Freddie Hubbard's post Blue Note years. Too often if a great artist later stumbles, it seemingly detracts from what initially made their reputation. To some extent art is subjective anyway, but no matter what a great artist goes on to do, the initial greatness should not be forgotten. It is this we should treasure, it is this which lasts.
The rigors of touring and Hubbard's uncompromising style of playing aggravated a split lip in 1992. "I started playing high notes and got carried away," he said afterwards. "High notes aren't my forte. I came back, went to Philly and played with some guys without warming up. That's when my top lip popped. Then I went to New York and played the Blue Note for a week. That's when I should have stopped cold." But he didn't; the lip became infected, and he had to cease working for a spell.
The injury came at a bad time, however – with both Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie dying in the early 1990s, the way was open for Hubbard to pick up the baton as the jazz world's leading trumpet man. He failed to do so and, criticized for both middle-market musical choices and for sometimes not turning up to gigs, his reputation began to suffer. When he returned to his instrument it was with a softer, more melodic approach, though he never truly recovered his former exuberance as a player.
Freddie Hubbard crossed over on December 29, 2008 in Sherman Oaks, California
Clay Corley Sr.
My name is Clayton E. Corley, Sr. aka Big Trigger host and producer of an award winning internet program!