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Artist Profile: Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard

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Artist Profile: Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard
© Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images

Born:

April 7th, 1938 in Indianapolis, Indiana

Died:

December 29th, 2008 in Sherman Oaks, California

Full Name:

Frederick Dwayne Hubbard

A Hub of Musical Brilliance

Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard is widely considered one of the most important musicians on the instrument. Since breaking into the scene in his early twenties, he has consistently stunned audiences with his unique style. His rich tone, machine-like technique, and aggressive rhythmic feel serve as models for today’s jazz trumpeters.

As a boy, Hubbard's home was filled with the sounds of records and of his family members singing and playing piano. In junior high school he played the mellophone, which resembles the trumpet, but is actually a French horn designed for marching band. He later switched to trumpet, and went on to study classical music at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory in Indianapolis. He began performing jazz with brothers Wes and Monk Montgomery, who were also Indianapolis natives.

In 1958, at the age of 20, Hubbard moved to New York City, where his talent was recognized immediately. He began playing with some of the top musicians in the city, including drummer Philly Joe Jones, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, trombonists Slide Hampton and J.J. Johnson, and saxophonist Eric Dolphy.

Hubbard’s first record as a leader, Open Sesame (Blue Note), was recorded in 1960, and with it he established himself as an essential voice in hard bop. In 1961, he replaced Lee Morgan in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, in which he played alongside Wayne Shorter and many other jazz greats. After his stint with Blakey’s group, which lasted until 1964, Hubbard began to develop his own style. His earlier playing had been heavily influenced first by Clifford Brown, and then by Miles Davis, who goaded Hubbard to “play his own stuff,” after Davis caught the rising star aping his style at the jazz club Birdland in Manhattan.

Although Hubbard’s career in the 1960s was centered on music within the hard bop vein, he was also included on seminal recordings of other important styles. He contributed to three important free jazz albums: Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz: a Collective Improvisation (1960), Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch (1964), and John Coltrane’s Ascension (1965).

He also recorded on what are now considered three of the most influential records in modern jazz: Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961), Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (1965), and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil (1965). Throughout that decade, he recorded 28 albums as a sideman for Blue Note Records, and eight as a leader.

In the 1970s, Hubbard incorporated elements of rock, soul, and funk on albums such as Red Clay (1970), and First Light (1971), the latter of which won him a Grammy. In the following years, his fusion projects on the record label CTI were aimed more and more at popular audiences, and earned unfavorable reviews from critics. In the late 70s, he also toured with V.S.O.P., a group consisting of Miles Davis’ band mates from his famous quintet, including Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Tony Williams, and bassist Ron Carter.

Hubbard continued to tour throughout the 80s, and his heavy playing schedule led to a serious lip injury, which got so infected that by 1992 he was forced to withdraw, and spent years attempting to regain his skill. When he returned to the trumpet, his playing retained certain elements of lyricism and style, but lost its fiery tone and technique.

Some of his last performances were with his manager, trumpeter David Weiss, who included Hubbard on his projects for the New Jazz Composers Octet. In 2006, Hubbard received the NEA Jazz Masters Award, one of the highest honors in jazz. After a heart attack on November 26th, 2008, Hubbard spent a month in intensive care, and died on December 29th at age 70.
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