Freddie and Me

Freddie Hubbard, 1938 – 2008

Rochester, NY – 1976 (Image: Tom Marcello)

Freddie Hubbard – Keep Your Soul Together (Excerpt)
From Keep Your Soul Together: CTI [Buy]

There was a time when I didn’t know who Freddie Hubbard was.

I was just starting to learn about jazz. A friend’s father (himself a well-known pianist and jazz broadcaster around town) thrust two dusty cassettes into my hand, which I duly took home and thrashed to death in my bedroom.

One tape was a copy of Miles’ Someday My Prince Will Come. The other was Herbie Hancock’s Empyrean Isles. The Herbie tape had a hastily scribbled playlist and personnel listing: Herbie… Ron … Tony… Freddie. Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, I’d heard of. But this Freddie guy… playing the … cornet?

Pretty soon Freddie Hubbard was a familiar sound in my house. His solos from that album – on One Finger Snap, Oliliquy Valley – were melodies I could sing in the shower. At that time, all trumpet players sounded fresh and exciting to me. Lee Morgan, Wynton Marsalis, Clifford Brown were all early additions to a small trove of cassettes that filled the family home with sound on evenings and weekends and annoyed my sister in her room down the hallway.  Freddie, with his loud-high hard bop style, probably annoyed her more than most.

At university we formed little jazz bands that played cafés around town. Somehow we managed to persuade the owners that we were actually good, and sometimes the owners even paid us.  By that time, we had discovered Freddie’s early 1970s recordings for CTI, and Red Clay inevitably ended up on our setlist.   We played it EVERY gig. Along with Chameleon, Wayne Shorter’s Footprints and a couple of Cole Porter ballads.

And then one January day, one of the band was killed in an accident. He was the youngest of us. Hell, the oldest of us was only 23.  We put together a band that played at his funeral.  Stevie arrived there before us, and we did our soundcheck next to his coffin. We played four songs before the start of the service. One of them was Red Clay.

Now Freddie Hubbard’s gone too, to join the ever-expanding jam session in the sky.  Through his most powerful recorded work (from, say, 1961 to 1975) many of his phrases have spun themselves into the DNA of all young jazz trumpet players today.  I never got to see him play live, but more than most trumpeters, it felt like I knew him a little bit through his records and the way they influenced me and my bandmates.   So, thanks, Freddie.  We’ll remember you.

3 thoughts on “Freddie and Me

  1. I just found out that he played on two albums by Icelandic keyboard player Jakob Frímann Magnússon.
    Now… where can I get those… hmm.

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