Freddie Hubbard, 1938-2008

I first saw Freddie Hubbard in 1970 shortly after the release of Red Clay. The band, though not quite as stellar as on the recording (if memory serves and it doesn’t always) did include saxophonist Joe Henderson and Ron Carter playing electric bass and the show, beyond Hubbard’s usual brashness, was notable for a (very) long bass solo that Carter played through his monitor when the rest of the sound system went down. After that, there was a number of club dates and large venue appearances. One notable mid-70s appearance in Milwaukee that included the great drummer Victor Lewis assured us that Hubbard was still his own man even as his recorded work was reflecting evil commercial pressure from his record company. The last time I saw Hubbard was at the Long Beach Jazz Festival sometime around 1999 or 2000. Hubbard hadn’t been heard much because of a chronic split lip and possible other problems and his return was much anticipated as it had been (dto disappointment) a few times before. I interviewed Hubbard for a piece in the L.A. Times over the phone ahead of the show and we talked for almost an hour, the ice clinking audibly in his glass as he refilled it, his speech becoming more and more comfortable. The sun had set when Hubbard took the festival stage and the band ripped into “Eye of the Hurricane” if again, memory serves, an audacious choice for a trumpeter with lip problems. John Beasley was playing piano and Hubbard did his best to make a statement. In the middle of the second tune, Hubbard stormed off. I was backstage to witness the argument between Hubbard and promoter Al Williams and I distinctly remember the profanity and the smell of booze (which wasn’t coming from Williams). What frustration must come of losing one’s artistic abilities, especially someone who was as great as Hubbard. We loved his Blue Note and Atlantic recordings, especially Ready For Freddie with Wayne Shorter and Elvin Jones (Hubbard always responded to better sidemen), Breaking Point with the great saxophonist/flutist James Spaulding and Backlash with its varied styles. Our disappointment with his mid and late ’70s recordings for Columbia made us miss some of his better, later efforts for Prestige and Pablo, but we never lost our taste for his early work. Hubbard was one of the best fluegelhorn players of his generation and, of the trumpeters heard in my lifetime, ranks with Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw, Lester Bowie and, yes, Miles in terms of ability, content and originality.  His trademark “woooo-a-eeee!” exclamation became a standing joke between my Hubbard-loving friends and always brought smiles, whether heard live or on record.  In a sense, Hubbard faded from view for us back in the late ’70s even as he  remained on our turntable. We missed him then and we’ll miss him now.–Cabbage Rabbit

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