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.

Lonely Hill

Andrew Hill was one of the unsung stalwarts of the Blue Note label in the 1960s, appearing as a sideman on recordings by Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson and Sam Rivers. But Hill’s work as a leader deserves far more attention. Despite a fairly prolific output in the 1960s, Chicago-born Hill struggled to be heard in the 1970s and 1980s, until he returned to Blue Note in 1989. In 1995, a Blue Note box set was released, and today at the age of nearly 70, Andrew Hill is finally getting some of the respect and attention he has always deserved. Check his website for some free solo mp3s!

Hill’s 1960s recordings ride a distinctive line between hard bop and complete freedom, where blues licks meld into atonality at a moment’s notice.

New Monastery is performed by the rather extraordinary sextet of Kenny Dorham (tp), Eric Dolphy (as, fl, Blc), Joe Henderson (ts), Andrew Hill (pn), Richard Davis (b) and Tony Williams (d). The Day After features a “two-bass quartet” of Hill, Roy Haynes, (d) with Richard Davis and Eddie Kahn on bass.

Andrew Hill Sextet – New Monastery
From Point of Departure: Blue Note 84167 [Buy]

Andrew Hill Quartet – The Day After
From Smoke Stack: Blue Note 32097 [Buy]

Andrew Hill

In 1996, Andrew Hill visited New Zealand, playing one show at Manifesto on Queen St in Auckland. Hill played a solo set, followed by a lengthy set with local musicans (from memory, Cameron Undy, Nick McBride, Jason Jones and Kim Paterson).

I actually got to meet Mr Hill personally, and as an impressionable and somewhat starry-eyed teenager, this was a memorable moment. I told him how much I enjoyed his gig, and he said, smiling, “Well, bless your heart!” And to this day, these are the only four words a Blue Note recording artist has ever said to me.