As I’m sure all of you know by now, Freddie Hubbard passed away on December 29, 2008. Since that time, several articles have surfaced to pay respect to Freddie Hubbard and to celebrate his contribution to jazz music. You can find links to many of these articles over at the Secret Society blog. One of my jazz trumpet blogging pals, Eric at JazzBrew.com, also wrote a nice send off.
For the past two weeks, I’ve wanted to write an article about Freddie Hubbard's passing, but each time I sat down to write, paralysis would set in. I’d just stare at the empty page, overwhelmed by the impossible task of saying goodbye to a dear friend. I never met Freddie Hubbard, nor have I even seen him play live, but through his music he’s been a constant companion and a source of inspiration throughout my musical journey.
Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay" album was one of the first records that I got from my local library when I started listening to jazz. “Red Clay” introduced me to Freddie Hubbard’s impeccable virtuosity, his ferocious yet beautifully melodic style, and of course, that big fat Freddie Hubbard sound. I was just a high school student at the time, but I was hooked on jazz forever thanks in large part to Freddie Hubbard’s playing on “Red Clay.”
A couple of years after first hearing “Red Clay,” I enrolled at the University of Michigan as a jazz studies major. Early in my freshman year, I was practicing with a jazz combo when the bass player called “Speak No Evil.” I had never heard the tune before. Come to think of it, I hadn’t even heard a single Blue Note recording at that point. Crazy, huh?! Anyway, I tried to sight-read the tune from my freshly purchased Real Book, but it was a disaster. Especially when I tried to play the demanding bridge. Hoping to avoid another embarrassing performance, the next day I went to the local record store to see if they had a copy of “Speak No Evil.” They did have it, but I remember looking at the price tag and wondering if it was really worth the money (like most college students, I was broke). I almost walked away from the album, but then I noticed that Freddie Hubbard was the trumpet player. I thought to myself, “If Freddie is playing on it, it must be good.” And boy was it. Not only would “Speak No Evil” become one of my favorite jazz recordings of all time, but it also introduced me to the 60’s Blue Note sound that I’ve come to love.
After my freshman year of college at University of Michigan, I transferred to the music school at DePaul University in Chicago. I was glad to be living in Chicago, but I was kind of lonely during the first month or two since I didn’t live on campus and I didn’t know anyone in town. Eventually, I met some other students in the jazz program and they invited me over to their apartment to hang out. When I arrived, they were playing a jazz recording that I hadn’t heard before, but it sounded vaguely familiar. Sure enough, Freddie Hubbard was the trumpet player. The recording was “I Was Doing Alright,” from Dexter Gordon’s “Doin’ Alright” album. There I was, happy to be chatting with my first friends in Chicago and Freddie Hubbard was providing the soundtrack! That’s such a great memory for me that I immediately thought of it when naming this website.
During that first year in Chicago it became painfully obvious that I wasn’t going to be good enough to become a professional jazz trumpet player. So, I quit music school and stopped playing the trumpet for a period of seven years. When I finally returned to the trumpet in 2002, I had major doubts about my ability to rebuild my chops. Mostly, I wondered if the damage I caused to my chops from my freshman year of college had caused irreparable damage (I practiced too much and developed a blister on my top lip). I spent a lot of time searching the Web for advice that might help me improve my embouchure when I came across an article about Freddie Hubbard. The article discussed a lip injury that Freddie suffered in the early 1990's. That injury became infected and doctors performed a biopsy which destroyed his embouchure. I couldn’t believe it. Freddie Hubbard was no longer Freddie Hubbard.
It might sound strange, but Freddie Hubbard’s embouchure problems actually became a source of inspiration for me during my return to the trumpet. When my chops wouldn’t cooperate, I’d think about what happened to Freddie Hubbard’s chops. I might have an imperfect embouchure, but at least I didn’t suffer through a debilitating operation. When I’d get discouraged about my progress, I’d think about how Freddie Hubbard must feel every time he picks up his horn. He knew with certainty that he’d never play as well as he used to play. I, however, have plenty of room for improvement, especially since I wasn’t that good to begin with! But seriously, I did and still do feel a tremendous responsibility to give it my all every time I pick up the trumpet to practice. I never know how long the gift of music will last and I want to make the most I can of every minute.
At the end of each day, when I practice jazz improvisation, more often than not I’m playing along with a Freddie Hubbard recording. Every so often a few seconds will pass where I’m totally in sync with him and we’re both at the top of our game. And when I close my eyes, I imagine him with that big grin, smiling back at me. It’s the happiest part of my day.
RECOMMENDED RECORDINGS - FREDDIE HUBBARD AS A LEADER
- Freddie Hubbard - Ready For Freddie
- Freddie Hubbard - Open Sesame
- Freddie Hubbard - Goin' Up
- Freddie Hubbard - Red Clay (this album has a 70's funk/fusion influence)
RECOMMENDED RECORDINGS - FREDDIE HUBBARD AS A SIDEMAN
- Dexter Gordon - Doin' Alright
- Wayne Shorter - Speak No Evil
- Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - Free For All
- Herbie Hancock - Empryean Isles
- Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage
- Oliver Nelson - Blues & The Abstract Truth
- Hank Mobley - Roll Call
- Eric Dolphy - Outward Bound (this album is a bit more adventurous than those mentioned above)
... you might as well just get all of the 1960's-era Blue Note albums featuring Freddie Hubbard.