Freddie Hubbard Is Gone

Freddie Hubbard died this morning in the Sherman Oaks district of Los Angeles. He was hospitalized there since he had a heart attack on November 26. Hubbard was 70. 

From the trumpeter’s first recording with the Montgomery Brothers in 1958, it 


was evident that reports coming out of Indianapolis were true: the city had produced a remarkable trumpet player, one who might equal another twenty-year-old, Lee Morgan. After his arrival in New York, Hubbard quickly proved the point. The two were the enfants terribles of their generation of post-bop trumpeters. Hubbard succeeded Morgan in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, then went on to a solo career. Hubbard and Morgan admired and, in one celebrated recording, challenged one another. 
The precision, lyricism and harmonic ingenuity of Hubbard’s playing flourished on a wave of power. Initially, there was a large component of Clifford Brown in his work, but his gifts and his outsized personality overrode any possibility that Brown or anyone else, would dominate his style. There were low points in Hubbard’s career: when he answered the seductive call of supposed riches and made a few tepid crossover albums for Columbia, and after 1992 when his embouchure suffered permanent damage from an infected lip. Nonetheless, the dozens of recordings he made under his own name average high in quality, including the sets for Creed Taylor’s CTI label that took a pounding from many critics. The early Hubbard albums on the Blue Note label, packed with virtuosity and excitement, are uniformly excellent. Some of his most compelling solos are on other peoples’ dates, notably so with Bill Evans on Interplay and Oliver Nelson on The Blues And The Abstract Truth
After the difficulty with his chops, Hubbard was frequently featured in concert and on recordings with the New Jazz Composers Octet, a cooperative band spearheaded by trumpeter and arranger David Weiss, who idolized Hubbard and later became his manager. I heard them at the Vienne Festival in France in 2000. The band sounded wonderful and was clearly pulling for him, but Hubbard struggled on his signature pieces “Sky Dive,” “Red Clay” and “One of Another Kind.” I wrote about the festival for Gene Lees’ JazzLetter

Freddie Hubbard, the last great trumpet stylist and innovator in jazz, has been through a miserable few years. He failed to care for an infected split lip and attempted, with characteristic Hubbard bravado, to overblow through the problem. Surgery made it worse. He told me that royalties from his compositions have brought him a comfortable living, but that not being able to play well has kept him frustrated. For him there is agony in the solution, the dogged hard work to rebuild his embouchure. Although he knows that playing long tones saved other trumpeters, he said, “Man, that sh– is so boring.” Hubbard’s constitution and metabolism militate against boredom.

The compulsion to power his way through good times and bad resulted in glorious music and monumental frustration. I last spoke with Freddie in 2006 at a reception for National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters. He was in good spirits, if rather subdued, and seemed to have accepted that his chops weren’t coming back. We sat around remembering good times together in New Orleans and he favored me with a few unprintable Art Blakey stories. Later at a post-function concert that evolved into a sort of jam session, he was asked to sit in. He declined. 
Obituaries are beginning to appear on web sites. Newspapers will have them in the morning. This one from Billboard has the essential biographical details. 
No obituary can transmit the authority, muscle and emotional reach of Hubbard’s playing. Here he is in 1984 with Blakey, pianist Walter Davis, Jr. and bassist Buster Williams playing Benny Golson’s “I Remember  Clifford.”
To see and hear Freddie Hubbard twenty-two years earlier, when he was the fieriest member of The Jazz Messengers, visit this Rifftides archive installment.
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  1. Dr. Mike Baughan says

    CTI or not, my favorite ‘HubTones’ were ‘SuperBlue’ & Red Clay’. Had the opportunity to see him in the late 70’s & see him extend those tunes out. Freddie was a class act the moment he took the stage-quite an aura, & bravura that we don’t see much in the entertainment world these days. Bless ya Mr. Hubbard!

  2. David Pologe says

    My favorite work of Freddie’s was often on albums not under his own name. In honor of his passing, you should listen to his work on Art Blakey’s ‘Free For All’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’. I certainly will.

  3. Carlos Prediger says

    Oh, we will miss you Mr Freddie Hubbard. I heard him play so many times in clubs in Boston and New York in the 70s and 80s and talked with him quite a bit. And then later on, I saw him again back in Boston when he was having lip, embouchure probems. It was painful to see him strugling to play but still trying to make the most out of it. He wanted to play like he always had, full of energy, emotion, but just could not do it. After the first set I talked to him and he told me: Why me? why is this shit happening to me? I don’t deserve it. It’s so frustrating….But this is life, and life goes on. We will always remember and continue to listen to the great music you left for all of us. Rest in Peace Mr. Hubbard.

  4. jb3 says

    While we may have missed Freddie playing with his normal exuberance over the last few years, we certainly have been blessed with the extensive discography that Mr.Hubbard left behind. His CTI recordings showcased his ability to play with sensitivity and passion, and provided a great contrast to the soaring, fiery flights shown on many of his other recordings. We’ll miss ya Freddie…………

  5. Albert Balderas says

    The most influential jazz trumpet god over the past 50 years is gone. There was never anyone like him and never will be. There was no genre of music that challenged him, his style was so flexible and his musicianship was the best. Whether playing hard bop on Hank Mobley’s Roll Call date or the free jazz of Eric Dolphy’s “Out To Lunch,” the incredible sessions with the Hancock-Carter-Williams rhythm section such as Herbie Hancock albums “Maiden Voyage” or “Empyrean Isles” and Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” all the way through his most commercial ventures like “Bundle of Joy” or “Ride Like the Wind”, proved he was not only a master of the trumpet but a first rate musician who was not limited to any classification. The era is over,and we can only be grateful that through recordings his horn will never be stilled. I love you Freddie Hubbard. I first saw him as a teenager around 1976 or ’77 promoting “Windjammer” and I eventually worked my way back through his CTI, Atlantic and Blue Note years. I last saw him around 1992, and he was sad about his lip having gone infected. We talked about doing an interview for the defunct Jazz Trumpet Journal but it never came about,in part because I felt I could not truly reach the level of musical sophistication necessary to capture such a life in print. We will miss him, and for those who play trumpet and trombone, he will live in each of our sounds forever.

  6. Paul Conley says

    Thanks, Doug, for your always thoughtful reflections. I have one Freddie story I’d like to share. In the mid 80’s we presented him in a free concert at UCLA’s Wadsworth Theatre. He played “Thermo” (from the Blakey days), Monk’s “Epistrophy” and closed with a fantastic version of “Red Clay.” One particular highlight was his heart-wrenching take on “Here’s That Rainy Day.” The audience was so moved that the applause went on and on… it dipped for a bit… Freddie said “Thank you, thank you.” Then the applause came on even stronger. After a bit, Freddie with a surpised turn in his voice said “Thank you!” And once the applause died down completely he said “you hear me play rock and roll, now you buy that too!” Then he added a “nah… Sunday jazz… this is nice.”

  7. john baltzer says

    The world has lost the best jazz trumpeter who ever lived. May your soul rest in peace, Freddie; you will never be forgotten by those of us who knew you.

  8. says

    It’s very sad that he’s gone. I unfortunately never saw Freddie live on stage, just once on TV. This was a very weird concert in Viersen, telecast later by the WDR, Germany. They really shouldn’t have done that! It was pure horror for me as a compassionate trumpet colleague, to see Freddie move his horn wildly around, then trying to play and nothing happened. No sound came out. Please remember: all on TV! — A few minutes later he tried to sing the blues, which was even worse.
    I don’t tell you about what was supposed to be an interview. It was just a nothing. I felt very sorry for Freddie. He hadn’t deserved that.
    R.I.P. Freddie Hubbard. You can be sure that the best moments of your legacy will stand the test of time. My name links you to a short review on Freddie Hubbard. There you can listen to one of his greatest solos in full length.

  9. Alexander Cohen says

    Thanks for the nice articles on Freddie Hubbard. What a loss for us
    woulda been trumpeters. What chops and what lyricism that Aires
    He really lit up the 70’s with all those CTI gems. It’s hard not to
    surf down here without having First Light or Sky Dive playing in my
    head over as the next swell approaches. Not any less wonderful was the
    music of Mosaic, my fav of his AB Jazz Messengers outings with Golson
    and Fuller out front. Some things just stick in one’s heart and play
    again and again no matter when. Music like his doth soothe indeed.
    Alex in New Zealand

  10. says

    It is with extreme disappointment I am out of town and can not attend
    Hub’s funeral. I wanted to say a few words in heartfelt respect to my hero. The simple and huge fact is that Freddie gave me a chance. What I learned from playing with him is not measurable by words.
    I can say with certainty that playing with Freddie changed my life.
    Equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest in the jazz world, if you could run
    the gauntlet on stage with Freddie and survive, it made you stronger. I loved him for his musical genius and his sweet soul. He was uncompromising, encouraging, fearless, tender, breathtaking and audacious. There are very few that come along to have such a profound contribution and leave such a void in their passing. Freddie defined the essence of jazz and remarkably set the bar so high with such ease. I am so honored for the privilege of playing next to him. Rest in peace and thank you my teacher. It is an experience I cherish and will never forget.
    (Bob Sheppard played saxophones in Freddie Hubbard’s band in the 1990s — DR))

  11. John Sakura says

    Freddie was and will always be the “guy” for me. Nobody swung like him. No one.
    Blues and the Abstract Truth
    Breaking Point
    Ready for Freddie
    Red Clay
    Keep Your Soul Together
    Out To Lunch (Dolphy)