Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Hubbard, Freddie, trumpet, composer; b. 7 April 1938. d. 29 December 2008. The son of a mason, he was one of six children, the youngest but for his sister. His mother was active in the local church (he later played trumpet there).
Lionel Hampton came to town during Hubbard's youth, and distributed instruments as part of his longstanding commitment to the black community. Freddie was interested in the drums but when all the drums were gone he was left with a bugle. He played sousaphone (marching band tuba) in school. But at 11 his parents divorced and this threw the family into disarray. His older siblings had to move out to support themselves. His mother was so poor that a local agency tried to get Freddie put into a foster home. His mother collected food stamps, his sister went to work, and he did odd jobs, but began practicing music constantly as his way of getting out of poverty and the ghetto.
Freddie Hubbard, by Jos L. Knaepen
He could have gone to the standard high school but chose the technical high school because it had a good music program as well as a wider range of other courses. Although the education was positive, this proved to be a difficult time because he was among the first blacks to integrate the school. He played the mellophone, then was serious about French horn, winning prizes on both instruments. Then he took up the trumpet, though he found that each instrument had a different kind of mouthpiece and required a period of adjustment. He began practicing almost daily with Larry Ridley and James Spaulding (from the East side of town) and David Baker. They would transcribe solos from recordings, and so on.
The legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery, who had six children, would play two gigs every night, a regular one and an after hours one, then get up early to clean the giant milk cans at Polk's Milk Company. Freddie could see him falling asleep from his attic window-he'd yell over and wake Wes up!
Hubbard, Ridley and Spaulding formed a band called the Jazz Contemporaries which became the house band at a local club. Many stars passing through town sat in with the band or came to listen-James Moody, Dave Brubeck and Paul Demsond-and word of this hot young trumpet player in Indianapolis spread.
He went to a conservatory briefly along with David Baker but they both were expelled because Baker was seducing the female students. Then Baker went to Indiana University but Hubbard went to briefly to another college with a music school. He studied with the first trumpeter of the Indianapolis symphony. He worked with the Montgomery Brothers (featuring Wes on guitar) with whom he made his first recording in 1957. Wes encouraged him to come to NY.
He moved to New York in 1958 with no money and first lived with trombonist Slide Hampton in a little apartment behind the Apollo Theater, where he shared one bed with Slide and another musician. (They played in the band at the Apollo for a year and a half.) After that he was able to stay with Millie Jenkins; Jackie McLean wrote "Millie's Pad" for her place; she was a friend to may musicians, loaning them money and a place to stay. Millie and her two lady friends let him room free in exchange for basbysitting their children. For a time he did nothing but practice and babysit-he gained a lot of weight during that time! Adderley was the one who advised him to publish his own music.
At first in New York he got some criticism for not sounding like Clifford Brown or Miles Davis-after a while though he turned some heads around. He recorded with Coltrane in December 1958. He began working with Wayne Shorter and Pete LaRoca in a quartet; Wayne was still in the army at the time but could go out on gigs. Afterwards, he became involved with Philly Joe Jones (1958-9, 1961); Sonny Rollins (1959, 1966); Slide Hampton's band (1959-60); J.J. Johnson (1960); and others. He roomed with Eric Dolphy for 18 months after Slide Hampton got a house in Brooklyn. In 1960-1 he toured Europe with a Quincy Jones show entitled "Free And Easy," but the whole band was stranded there when the show flopped. He played with Friedrich Gulda before returning to the U.S. and joining Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He won a Down Beat New Star Award, his first of many prizes from the jazz press. During the 1960s he also worked with Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter again, began leading his own groups, and was featured as sideperson on some of the most acclaimed jazz albums, among them Coltrane's Ole` and Ascension, Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, Dolphy's Outward Bound and Out To Lunch, and Rollins's East Broadway Rundown.
Meanwhile, he led a fast life with fellow trumpet star Lee Morgan, a well-known swinger and ladies' man. Back home he had been a clean living man, but in New York he became exposed to the nightlife. He also had a long association with Miles Davis-he was a witness to the beating of Davis by the police on August 26, 1959 and Hubbard later subbed for him after Davis was grazed by a drug dealer's bullet. In 1965-6 he disbanded his own group to work with Max Roach. Roach was militant politically in those days and Hubbard got involved in civil rights causes. When he didn't like the way he was treated backstage at a concert in Austria, Hubbard said onstage "Kiss my black ass!" This notorious incident, which survives on the audiotapes of the concert, led to his being banned from Austria until several years later, when he apologized.
From 1966 on he worked mostly with his own quintets, which have helped bring young artists to prominence, among them Kenny Barron, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Don Braden, and many others. He also did studio work. He was one of the first jazz artists to record tunes with pop-oriented beats such as the track "Backlash" and the album A Soul Experiment (1969). Unlike some others, he publicly stated that he preferred acoustic jazz and that he hoped his work in fusion would bring him enough success to return to acoustic jazz. When host Joe Williams held up A Soul Experiment to plug it on a New York City television show, Hubbard said on the air not to bother-"It's just a commercial thing." Hubbard's work in the 1970s continued with a fusion direction; his albums Red Clay and Straight Life sold well and he scored a hit with Sky Dive in 1972 and won a Grammy that same year. Throughout the 70s he often won first place in the trumpet category in Down Beat's polls.
However he demonstrated on occasion that he still had his flair for experimentation. He appeared on the Columbia University composer Ilhan Mimaroglu's Sing Me a Song of Songmy in 1971, a political tape collage piece with voices speaking against the Vietnam war, about the murder of Sharon Tate, and about the role of the black soldier in Vietnam. The publisher, Atlantic Records, eventually gave in to pressure to remove the album from print. During this time he was invited to speak at colleges about his political views, though he never saw himself as an activist.
His commercial success was also dampened by a very bitter divorce from his first wife, a friend of Coltrane's wife Naima, whom he had married soon after arriving in New York. He decided to avoid New York City for about four years, since she would attempt to garnish his income whenever she found him. Ironically his divorce occurred when his son was 11, the same age at which his own parents separated.
In 1977 he toured the U.S. with Herbie Hancock and others in the group "V.S.O.P.," basically a Miles Davis reunion with Hubbard substituting for Davis (as he had done on several other occasions). In the mid- to late '80s he made a series of international tours with Joe Henderson. He continued to tour with his own groups during the 1980s and '90s, also recording with Woody Shaw and again with Blakey. In the late-'90s serious lip problems have reduced him to playing with a mute and he had to drastically cut down on his performance schedule while he sought help from experts who specialized in treating such matters. Musicians from all over the world called him to volunteer advice.
Hubbard returned to playing, although not at the level of his earlier work. His soloing lacked the high intensity pyrotechnics of his earlier years, and he often relied on the more forgiving flugelhorn. Hubbard also worked on his memoirs during this period, and was honored in 2006 as Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. The audience's enthusiastic ovation when he received the latter award showed that he was much beloved by the jazz community even when he didn't play a single note. Shortly before his death, Hubbard performed and recorded with The New Jazz Composers Octet, an ensemble led by his manager David Weiss.
Hubbard suffered a heart attack on November 26, 2008 which led to his hospitalization. On December 29, 2008 Freddie Hubbard passed away in Sherman Oaks Hospital in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 70 years old.
The Dozens: Randy Brecker Selects 12 Essential Freddie Hubbard Tracks, edited by Ted Panken