Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I'm Not Ready for Jazz Without Freddie

First thing this morning, I got an email with a grim headline: "Jazz legend passes." I just had a feeling that it might be a trumpet player, simply because the guy who sent me the email often sends stuff of a trumpet-centric nature, and I was correct: Freddie Hubbard passed away yesterday at the age of 70, of complications from a heart attack suffered at the end of last month. He died at Sherman Oaks Hospital in California, according to his manager, David Weiss, a trumpeter who had worked with Hubbard frequently in recent years (and is also my former schoolmate and fellow KNTU staffer).

Hubbard was an alumnus of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, playing on such notable albums as Mosaic, Caravan and Ugetsu. During the '60s, he played on some of the most important jazz recordings of the decade, including Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage, Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil and Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz. In the '70s, he became a major figure in the jazz-rock movement, recording albums such as Straight Life, Red Clay and First Light, on the CTI label (a later period with Columbia was often panned by critics). In the late '70s, he joined Miles Davis alumni Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams in the acclaimed V.S.O.P. quintet. He also recorded what I consider to be a very fine album, Bolivia, in 1991 with a band that included Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins.

I was lucky enough to see Freddie at a jazz festival while I was in college. Though his famous high chops diminished with age (a problem exacerbated by a split lip that he ignored until it became infected), he still played with energy and feeling.

And this past summer, it was supposed to happen again:

I had pretty much a front-row table to that show, but Freddie had to cancel because of illness. It was a shame not to be able to see him again, and I feel really bad for my friend who was supposed to go with me, as he'd never gotten to see him at all.

Further information is available on the frontpage of Hubbard's website. He will be missed, but his contribution to jazz lives on. R.I.P., Freddie.

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