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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Four days in...and Belated Farewell to Freddie

It is four days into the New Year, and I am one week late in bidding farewell to the great Freddie Hubbard. Freddie is one of the few jazz superstars I had an opportunity to know, slightly. He was the featured artist at the University of California - Berkeley's Collegiate Jazz Festival back in the mid-1970's, and I was in the trombone section of the UC-Berkeley Jazz Ensemble at that time. The picture above (swiped from my old UC-Jazz Ensemble colleague, Les Golden) shows Freddie with UCJE director Dr. David Tucker. Dr. Tucker passed in 2003 (RIP).

I remember Freddie as a gracious genius. He was kind to the white college punks that were struggling to learn the arrangements for the concert in a compressed time frame. The performance was a success, and we filled the large auditorium on campus that night. It was very exciting for a wanabee jazz guy, which is what I was back then.

Freddie played with passion and power. When he was at the peak of his talent, he was the top trumpet player in the world. I thought he beat the hell out of Miles in the 1970's, and he was more contemporary that Dizzy. It seemed the Freddie was playing with every major luminary in jazz - Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Oliver Nelson, etc. etc. Shortly after he played at the UC Jazz Festival, he formed the great VSOP quintet with Hancock, Shorter, Tony williams on drums and Ron Carter on bass (the same group that was on the great Miles Davis records of the 1960's). The VSOP records are truly awesome.

Unfortunately, Freddie damaged his chops in 1992 and was never the same player after that. But his compositions have entered the list of jazz standards - "Red Clay" and "Little Sunflower" are two that jump to mind immediately.

So I have been feeling kind of bummed the past few days as I have reflected on the Freddie Hubbard's death. He was 70 years old, which doesn't sound that aged to me now that I am trudging through middle age. Freddie had some high points, but his star faded at the end. He was a giant, and a gentleman. Farewell, Freddie.

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