Freddie Hubbard Comes to Yoshi’s

by E. "Doc" Smith on April 4, 2008

One of my fondest jazz memories came many years ago at Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. I had come to see the fantastic pianist Herbie Hancock’s V.S.O.P., (very special onetime performance), quintet. This was the reunion of Miles Davis’ original quintet, featuring saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams and in Miles’ stead, the one and only Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. Each performer began the show by trading and soloing, until settling in on Hubbard. He didn’t disappoint. Tonight and Saturday, Hubbard makes his debut at the new Yoshi’s on Fillmore, celebrating his 70th birthday.Joining him are Bobby Hutcherson, George Cables, James Spaulding, Craig Handy, and Lenny White.

Freddie Hubbard is jazz royalty. One of the greatest trumpeters in the music’s history, the Indianapolis native came out of the Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan tradition to hone his own fiery and widely influential style. After rising to prominence as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (alongside Wayne Shorter and Curtis Fuller), Hubbard became a leader in his own right, producing a string of classic albums for Blue Note, Impulse, and, especially, CTI. As a composer, he’s contributed several standards (notably “Red Clay” and “First Light”) to the jazz repertoire. Help celebrate Freddie Hubbard’s 70th birthday as the trumpet legend comes to Yoshi’s with an all-star band comprised of friends and alumni, including Craig Handy, David Weiss, Dwayne Burno, James Spaulding, George Cables, and special guest Bobby Hutcherson.

Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born April 7, 1938 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and in his youth, Hubbard associated with various musicians in Indianapolis, including Wes Montgomery and Montgomery’s brothers. Chet Baker was an early influence, although Hubbard soon aligned himself with the approach of Clifford Brown and his forebears: Fats Navarro and Dizzy Gillespie.

Hubbard’s jazz career began in earnest after moving to New York City in 1958. While there, he worked with Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, J. J. Johnson, Philly Joe Jones, Oliver Nelson, and Quincy Jones, among others. He gained attention while playing with the seminal hard bop ensemble Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, appearing on such albums as Mosaic, Buhaina’s Delight, and Free For All. He left the Messengers in 1964 to lead his own groups and since that time has maintained a high profile as a bandleader or featured as a special guest, but never merely a sideman.

Along with two other trumpeters also born in 1938, Lee Morgan and Booker Little, Hubbard exerted a strong force on the direction of 1960s jazz. He recorded extensively for Blue Note Records: eight albums as a bandleader, and twenty-eight as a sideman. Most of these recordings are regarded as classics. Hubbard appeared on a few early avant-garde landmarks (Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch and John Coltrane’s Ascension), but Hubbard never fully embraced free jazz, though it has influenced his playing.

After leaving Blue Note, Hubbard recorded for the Atlantic label and moved toward a more commercial style. His next label was CTI Records where he recorded his best-known works, Red Clay, First Light, and Sky Dive. By 1970, his fiery, melodic improvisation and phenomenal technique established him as perhaps the leading trumpeter of his day, but a series of commercially oriented smooth jazz albums spawned some negative criticism. After signing with Columbia Records, Hubbard’s albums were almost exclusively in a commercial vein. However, in 1976, Hubbard toured and recorded with V.S.O.P., led by Herbie Hancock which presented unadulterated jazz in the style of the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet with Hubbard taking the place of Davis.

1980s projects moved between straight-ahead and commercial styles, and Hubbard recorded for several different labels including Atlantic, Pablo, Fantasy, Elektra/Musician, and the revived Blue Note label. The slightly younger Woody Shaw was Hubbard’s main jazz competitor during the 1970s and 1980s, and the two eventually recorded together on three occasions. Hubbard participated in the short-lived Griffith Park Collective, which also included Joe Henderson, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White.

Following a long setback of health problems and a serious lip injury in 1992, Hubbard is again playing and recording occasionally, some have said, “not at the high level that he set for himself during his earlier career”.

I can’t tell.

Freddie Hubbard & Friends 70th Birthday Celebration
with Bobby Hutcherson, George Cables, James Spaulding, Craig Handy, and Lenny White
Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore
April 4th & 5th, 2008
Friday & Saturday, all shows $28 & $32

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording engineer who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Cliff, and John Mayall among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached at http://myspace.com/edoctorsmith

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