Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


To paraphrase Joseph Epstein’s comments about Literature in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, one doesn’t traditionally think of Jazz as art, but as played by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck or Bill Evans, it indubitably is.

Jazz is a house with many mansions and musicians such as these and the occasional newcomer provide some of the more stately among them.

One such mansion dweller was the late trumpeter Freddie Hubbard [1932-2008] who literally burst on the scene as a member of trombonist J.J. Johnson’s sextet in the late 1950’s and gained a more established prominence when he joined drummer Art Blakey’s quintet/sextet in the early 1960’s.

As Randy Sandke notes in his essay on the trumpet in Jazz in Bill Kirchner, Ed. - The Oxford Companion to Jazz:

“The various bands led by drummer Art Blakey established the most significant trumpet dynasty in modern jazz. His first unit featured Kenny Dorham, whose harmonic inventiveness influenced sax and trumpet players alike. Dorham was followed by Clifford Brown. Later groups included Lee Morgan, a soulful player of great wit, and Freddie Hubbard, who went on to become one of the major voices in jazz of the sixties and seventies. Hubbard displays a warm and vibrant tone as big as the great swing players' yet with a thoroughly modern conception. He is a prodigious technician, and his solos, on both ballads and up-tempo numbers, are full of passion and fire.”

Richard Cook and Brian Morton in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., offer the following description of Freddie’s importance by focusing on his early recordings under his own name that he made for Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff at Blue Note:

“Freddie Hubbard was one of the liveliest of the young hard-bop lions of the late 19505 and early '6os. As a Jazz Messenger, and with his own early albums for Blue Note, he set down so many great solos that trumpeters have made studies of him to this day, the burnished tone, bravura phrasing and rhythmical subtleties still enduringly modern. He never quite had the quickfire genius of Lee Morgan, but he had a greater all-round strength, and he is an essential player in the theatre of hard bop. His several Blue Note dates seem to come and go in the catalogue, but we are listing Open Sesame, Goin’ Up (though it is a 'Connoisseur' limited edition) and the new Rudy van Gelder edition of Hub-Tones, each a vintage example of Blue Note hard bop. Open Sesame and Goin’ Up were his first two records for the label and their youthful ebullience is still exhilarating, the trumpeter throwing off dazzling phrases almost for the sheer fun of it. The brio of the debut is paired with the sense that this was the important coming-out of a major talent, and Hubbard's solo on the title-track is a remarkable piece of brinkmanship: in the bonus alternative take, he's a shade cooler, but that more tempered effort is less exciting, too”

What has always struck me as odd is that although it was one of his earliest recordings under his own name [the 5th if I’m counting correctly], there is very little mention of The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard [Impulse IMPD-179]in the Jazz literature.

Recorded in 1962, Dan Morgenstern had this to say about it in the following excerpts from his liner notes to the LP:

“In a recent interview in Playboy [1962], Miles Davis was asked about trumpet players. Among the dozen names Miles mentioned having set his criteria “does the man project and does he have ideas” such as Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Bobby Hackett, Kenny Dorham and 24-year old Freddie Hubbard. Miles made a point of stating that, unlike Jazz critics and pollsters, he wasn’t rating or comparing artists but talking about men with individual ideas and styles. Freddie Hubbard, though his musical ancestors clearly include Miles himself and the late Clifford Brown, is a young player with a style and a mind of his own.

Indianapolis born Hubbard has behind him work with the groups of Slide Hampton, Max Roach and J.J. Johnston prior to embarking on his association with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

His bright, bold and unashamedly brassy trumpet sound has done much to make the current edition of that durable ensemble one of the best.

Hubbard can get around on his horn, but he has not sacrificed range for speed or sound for ingenuity.

His ability to produce a good tone in all registers is one of the things that make him stand out from the flock, as is his way with long notes.

In an era of Jazz dominated by saxophonists, Hubbard’s command of the horn is almost a throwback to the trumpet-reigned 1930’s.

But only in terms of instrumental approach can this be said about Freddie Hubbard. His musical ideas are definitely of today …. [He] has a gift for conceiving harmonically challenging original lines and is fond of the “freedom from four-four” which the “new thing” seems to strive for. His sound execution and control enhances these pursuits. No matter how advanced his style of playing may become, it never moves to the stage where it becomes a disadvantage.”

Among the pleasures I receive from preparing the features for this blog is revisiting - in some case, rediscovering - favorite records and sharing thoughts and impressions about them on these pages.

Such is the case with The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard.See what you think as the following video tribute to Freddie is set to Caravan, the opening track on this recording. Curtis Fuller is on trombone, John Gilmore in on tenor saxophone with a rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan, piano, Art Davis, bass and Lewis Hayes drums.





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