Freddie Hubbard died Dec. 29 at age 70, of complications following a heart attack. He’s not as well known to the general public as Miles or ‘Trane or Dizzy, but he’s still one of the giants. Here’s the NYT obituary to prove it. (Registration required.)
By coincidence, I’d previously volunteered to cover some morning air time on Dec. 30. A few hours of research and a dive into the KZSU library, especially the vinyl section, yielded more than enough material for a three-hour tribute show.
These links proved helpful:
- A site devoted to Freddie: freddiehubbardmusic.com. (Use the navigation bars on the right, not the ones up top.)
- A nice discography
- NPR remembers (Includes great insights taken from a 2001 interview)
- Randy Brecker picks 12 essential Freddie solos (part of Jazz.com’s excellent series, “The Dozens”
Some inside baseball: The original playlist went up on my old site, here. This WordPress blog was created on Jan. 3, so I’m adding this playlist a few days after the fact. I’m still trying to figure out whether I want to import other “old” playlists and faux-blog comments to this site; if I do, I’ll probably jiggle the datestamp to move this entry back into December.
Freddie Hubbard — “Body and Soul” — Skylark (Pickwick, 1978)
- Wanted to start with something … not sad, but mellow enough to properly note the occasion. Didn’t seem right to just jump right into the fast blazing stuff.
Freddie Hubbard — “Arietis” — Ready for Freddie (Blue Note, 1961)
- Starting out with some of Freddie’s own work, a few arbitrary tracks. This one, with McCoy Tyner on piano among others, carries that classic “Blue Note” feeling.
Freddie Hubbard — “Chocolate Shake” — The Body and the Soul (Impulse, 1963)
- A Duke Ellington song, with strings. I don’t normally go for the jazz-plus-strings sound, but I did want to toss something different into the set and maybe slow things down a tad.
Freddie Hubbard — “On the Que-Tee” — Backlash (Atlantic, 1985; orig. released 1967)
- Arbitrary pick from the vinyl library. Someone had written a note on the album cover that this track was “Blowin’!” and, indeed, it is.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers — “Free for All” — Free for All (Blue Note, 1964)
- Beginning a long stretch of tracks showing the work Freddie did with the other jazz greats before he joined their ranks as a leader in 1966. Of course, anybody who was anybody came out of the school of Art Blakey, so we start there.
Herbie Hancock — “Maiden Voyage” — The Essential Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 2006; orig. released 1965)
Oliver Nelson — “Stolen Moments” — Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse, 1961)
- Selected by Randy Brecker as one of 12 essential Freddie solos. Brecker makes note of Hubbard’s saxophone-like approach to trumpet soloing, which is a part of what made Hubbard so revolutionary on his instrument.
Eric Dolphy — “Hat and Beard” — Out to Lunch (Blue Note, 1964)
- Of course, I had multiple good choices facing me on this album. I was leaning towards the craftily upbeat “Gazzeloni,” but instead went with “Hat and Beard,” because I love the way Freddie’s solo starts out with Richard Davis playing gloopy, abstract bass notes behind him. Freddie’s own tastes didn’t take him in the full avant-garde direction, but I’m glad for the sessions he did (as noted below).
John Coltrane — “Aisha” — Ole Coltrane (Atlantic, 1961)
- A mellow track that kind of killed the avant-garde sequence I’d been setting up … but I did want to make sure to get a ‘Trane track (oh god, no pun intended) into the show and didn’t think there’d be a good opportunity later.
John Coltrane — “Ascension” [excerpt] — Ascension (Impulse, 1965)
- The first of two obvious “free jazz” references on Freddie’s resume. His solo here opens with a bright clarion call. You can still definitely hear Freddie’s nature in the solo (I can tell mainly from having listened to his stuff for the past hour-plus), and it’s very interesting to hear him working in this free of a context. For him — and the other players, obviously — it must have been a nice challenge.
Ornette Coleman — “Free Jazz” [excerpt] — Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1961)
- Less “free” than “Ascension,” in some senses, Ornette’s double-quartet recording remains a classic. Freddie’s solo starts out with just the basses and drums behind him, and the horns gradually pick up the thread and start interjecting. Powerful stuff.
Freddie Hubbard — “Ride Like the Wind” [excerpt! a BRIEF excerpt!] — Ride Like the Wind (Elektra, 1982)
Freddie Hubbard — “Hubbard’s Cupboard” [excerpt, even more brief] — Ride Like the Wind (Elektra, 1982)
Freddie Hubbard went through an unfortunate pop phase in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Part of that was probably related to the general climate circa 1981, when new wave was apparently sending everyone into a synth-mania panic, leading to lots of unfortunate pop-minded music (it’s around this period that Genesis, Yes, and Rush all started to slide downhill, for instance). Part of it was probably — and this is pure, irresponsible speculation on my part — related to Hubbard’s move to Hollywood in 1970, where he was likely surrounded by music-industry people who fed him lots of questionable advice. His albums of the period sport glossy covers — Freddie lounging around with a pretty lady in purple spandex, Freddie sitting on an avant-garde lounge chair, etc.
Again, that’s partly a sign of the times; some of these albums were on Blue Note (!), and the jazz world was sickening overall at the time, as I’ve noted in a rant against late ’80s styles. But anyway. Freddie also started doing cover songs — “Fragile” by Sting, “Midnight at the Oasis” … and this one. Ugh. The overall atmosphere is as if Chuck Mangione decided to do the song; in fact, Mangione’s success might have been a catalyst for this whole project. I dropped the needle on “Hubbard’s Cupboard” (not one of Freddie’s own compositions) just to shift to something less cheesy and with more of Freddie’s perky soloing, but alas, the track wasn’t as good/mediocre as I’d thought when previewing it earlier.
I tried not to be too harsh to Freddie during this set, out of respect but also because he would later repudiate this phase of his career and redeem himself with some solid recordings later.
Freddie Hubbard — “The Love Connection” — The Love Connection (Columbia, 1979)
- Still cheesy, IMHO, but at least it’s honstly funky and includes some nicely tricky soloing.
Freddie Hubbard — “Take It to the Ozone” — Super Blue (Columbia, 1978)
- Jazz critic Len Lyons, in the fantastic 1980 book The 101 Best Jazz Albums (Quill; and it’s better than the title would suggest) called this album “the one bright spot of the [Freddie Hubbard] 1970s among lackluster efforts at catering to popular taste.” It’s a straightahead album, apparently inspired by the rush of doing V.S.O.P.: The Quintet. This track, in particular, goes at a breakneck pace, showing what ’60s jazz could be in its maturity. Lyons likens Hubbard’s pop phase — which had really just begun when the book was published — as a kind of identity crisis, and expresses hope that Hubbard will let his old instincts take over, which of course is what happened.
Part of me thinks, though, that Hubbard should be acknowledged for trying something different. It may have been commercially motivated, but jazz by 1980 had clearly lost out to rock in the popular conscience, and rock was now theoretically about to fall to new wave, so it’s no surprise jazzsters would try to find ways to become relevant to this new era. Wait — did I just accidentally defend Chick Corea’s jumpsuit on that one Elektric Band cover?
Freddie Hubbard — “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” — Above and Beyond (Metropolitan, 1998; recorded 1982)
- Freddie redeems himself. This is a straightahead session with a couple of tracks longer than 15 minutes, showing Freddie still had the power to solo for chorus after chorus (an ability he’d lose after hurting his lip in 1992). He’s in top form on this track, and I think this is how most fans would like to remember him.
Freddie Hubbard — “Spacetrack” — The Black Angel (Koch, 2000; orig. released 1970)
- Freddie tries out electric Miles, complete with Kenny Barron on electric piano. Lots of spacey pauses in this slowly developing, 16-minute jam, but also lots of fast trumpet bursts to let you know Freddie’s still in there. I really dig this one.
Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Heath — “Lover Man” — Live at the Left Bank (Label M, 2000; recorded 1965)