This article appeared in a 2009 ITG journal.  (Unfortunately, the picture that accompanied the ITG article was of a young Terence Blanchard, not Freddie.   My pic is the real deal.)

I’d like to share a few of my thoughts about Freddie Hubbard, who died at the age of 70, on December 30, 2008.  The perspective that I will offer is my own, as a trumpet player that has been greatly influenced by the power of Freddie’s music.  But first, I would like to point you to a few articles written about Freddie that will give you a more historical perspective of him.

An article by Will Friedwald in the Wall Street Journal:

Howard Mandel’s remembrance for NPR:

An NPR 2001 interview with Freddie Hubbard:

As a student of music I have been shaped by a great many influences.  As a trumpet player I would have to say that most of those influences are other trumpet players, living and dead.  Freddie Hubbard was introduced to me early in my jazz studies and I quickly became obsessed with his playing and bought every recording I could find with him on it and went to see him whenever he was within a 500 mile radius.  I transcribed a number of Freddie’s improvised solos and practiced along with the recordings to fully immerse myself in his tonal concept and feel.  This devotion went on for many years and after a while I felt like my own playing had picked up a few Freddie-isms; idiomatic traits of his playing.  This actually became a sore spot for me, as I tried to find “my own voice”, and I consciously tried to find other trumpet players that I could latch on to, to “broaden my horizons” musically.  Freddie continued to play great to the end but from the 70’s through the 80’s he seemed to lean on some clichés and trumpet pyro-techniques that left me cold.  So, in a way, it was easy for me to abandon my hero for a while and check out some other players.   This is when I delved into Miles Davis and Clifford Brown and eventually Tom Harrell.  Currently, I am listening to Dave Douglas, John Swana, Alex Sipiagin to name a few and I absolutely love and admire all the players I have just listed.

A funny thing happened a couple of years ago when I was asked to play in a band that was going to be playing repertoire from the Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers songbook.  I dug out my old Blakey recordings and it happens that the repertoire this band chose to play was largely from the three-year era that Freddie Hubbard was with Blakey (1958-61).  This was the era of Freddie that I grew up on and most admired and hadn’t listened to for a dozen or so years.  Coming back to that music was a revelation for me.  I had gone through a lot of players and after studying the soulfulness of Miles, sweetness of Clifford, theory of Dizzy, beauty and introspection of Harrell, technique of Wynton… one listen to Freddie in what I consider his heyday made me realize he was the complete package.  He was all I just mentioned and more.  He was in his twenties when he was with Blakey, so he also had a youthful exuberance and sense of indestructible-ness that we all had when we were in our late teens, early twenties.  I remember listening to those recordings at a time in my life and career where I felt invincible and was pretty convinced that I would be the next trumpet player in the Jazz Messengers, (just as Freddie Hubbard replaced the great Lee Morgan in the Messengers, in my dream, I would replace the great Wynton Marsalis – only Terence Blanchard beat me to it!)  Some would call that ignorance, naiveté, wishful thinking but that confident optimism is what I hear in my favorite Freddie recordings.  And, that confident optimism is what those recordings gave to me.

What draws me to his playing is his undeniable swing, rhythmic security and technical mastery of the trumpet, matched with a personality that was not unlike Mozart – youthful, arrogant and completely sure of himself.  I remember watching a special on TV in the 80’s that was a trumpet summit consisting of Dizzy Gillespie, John Faddis, Wynton Marsalis and Freddie Hubbard.  Through the course of the program four tunes stood out to me.  These were tunes that seemed to be programmed to showcase each of the trumpet player’s strengths; a bebop tune for Dizzy, a contemporary tune for Wynton (he was still very young), a super-fast screamer for Faddis and a ballad for Freddie.  Interestingly, even though these were obvious features, all four trumpet players played on all the tunes.  To me, the most amazing thing about that concert was that Freddie completely and undeniably killed everybody on every tune in every style.  I had always heard that Freddie was obsessively competitive and there are stories that he would play jam sessions with a handkerchief draped over his horn so people could not watch his valves and check how he did things.  Some of my favorite recordings are the duo records he made with Woody Shaw and the famous jam session he recorded with Lee Morgan, “Night of the Cookers”.  Freddie is at his complete finest in these settings because I think he still felt he was in his twenties coming up on the scene in jam sessions.  He kicked into a higher gear when he was in that mode.

Of the hundreds of recordings that Freddie Hubbard participated I would have to say that these are my personal favorites:

  • “Open Sesame” (1960)
  • “Ready for Freddie” (1961)
  • “Hub-Tones” (1962)
  • Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s “Caravan”, “Ugetsu” and “Three Blind Mice”.

One of the things that made Freddie Hubbard such a memorable jazz figure is that his playing was so consistent.   From the mid-fifties through the late-sixties, virtually everything he recorded was masterful – even the outtakes!  Even when he was playing his more commercial-oriented stuff in the 70’s and 80’s his solos were still brilliant.  I feel that somewhere along the line, he received some notoriety and success by his ability to play in the extreme high register and his use of lip trills, so in his pursuit for financial/commercial success, he let these traits become his trademark.  (I feel this was an unfortunate trend in his playing.)

All this being said, if I had to remark on a couple of outstanding specific musical moments, mine would be:

  • “Skylark” from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers album Caravan
  • “Caravan” from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers album Caravan
  • “Birdlike” from Ready for Freddie
  • “Byrdlike” from Herbie Hancock’s V.S.O.P.
  • “You’re My Everything” (alt. take) from Hub-Tones

Rest in peace Freddie Hubbard, and know that you profoundly influenced, gave joy, hope and optimism to another human being through your music.