By Don Heckman
I’ve written a lot of obituaries for the Los Angeles Times. Most deal with the passing of folks either directly or indirectly connected to the world of jazz. And most, therefore, are artists whose music I’ve known, loved and respected for many years. As such, each obit, as I write it, generates a multiplicity of feelings: the first time I heard someone’s music; the impact of a special song or recording; a recollection of having interviewed the person; a sense – in many cases – of the way in which their passing represents the end of an era.
All those feelings were present yesterday when I wrote the obituary for Freddie Hubbard. I’ve been listening to his music for more than forty years, and was awe-struck by almost everything I heard. Yes, I was a bit disappointed with some of the later CTI recordings; but so was Freddie, himself. But the correct perspective on his remarkable career returns when you hear his work from the ’60s, in which he moved, with astonishing ease from settings that included Ornette Coleman’s double quartet, Eric Dolphy’s “Out To Lunch,” John Coltrane’s “Ascension,” Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil,” Oliver Nelson’s “Blues and the Abstract Truth,” Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage.” As well, of course, as his extended gig with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Maybe there’s someone out there who can suggest another trumpeter who could have handled that range of musical assignments. I can’t imagine who it would be.
The last time I heard Freddie was in April, when he played at Catalina Bar & Grill with The New Jazz Composers Octet – the ensemble led by David Weiss as a Hubbard showcase. It wasn’t the old Freddie, of course, and there were moments that made one wince, while simultaneously honoring him for getting out there and laying himself on the line. And doing so at a time when his damaged chops could not always reproduce the imaginings of his never-failing, ever-active musical creativity.
Freddie was one of a kind, one of the magical characters who are the true originals, inventing their own worlds, allowing us the pleasure – and the privilege – of sharing their unique adventures.
A Personal Reminiscence
Decades ago, I was fortunate to be a student at the Lenox School of Jazz’s summer program, and doubly lucky to be playing in the ensemble that also included Freddie Hubbard. There were some pretty good players in that ensemble. Trombonist Mike Gibbs went on to become a very successful composer/arranger; the envelope-stretching tenor saxophonist Ed Summerlin also composed some of the finest jazz liturgical music; the MJQ’s Connie Kay played drums. Yet all of us – as well as such other attendees as Don Ellis, David Baker, Gary McFarland, Hal McKinney and Jamie Aebersold (to mention only a few) – were astonished by Freddie’s free flying displays of sheer talent on the wing.
I remember the rehearsals (here pictured) with special glee because of the opportunities to have fun trading licks – with Freddie, of course, always triumphing. There’s a recording of the final night’s concert. And I listened to it again, today, for the first time in years. Although the sound quality leaves something to be desired, I cherish every aspect of that memorable evening, of sitting alongside Freddie Hubbard, charging forward in the rhythmic wake of his amazing trumpet.
Funeral Services for Freddie Hubbard will take place on
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at
Faithful Central Bible Church
321 N. Eucalyptus Avenue
Inglewood, CA 90301
(310) 330- 8000
Viewing 11 am- 1 pm
Service 1 pm