Personalities | Freddie Hubbard | Sixties | Jazz & Blues
In the 1960s and early 1970s, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was the primary alternative to Miles Davis’s domination of the field. Hubbard came up in the hard-bop era, blew free jazz with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, and established a body of exemplary compositions, recordings and improvisations with the best of the 1960s Blue Note artists: Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Lee Morgan, Tony Williams, Sam Rivers and many others.
Born in Indianapolis in 1938, Hubbard drew inspiration from the bebop trumpeters of the early 1950s, particularly Clifford Brown. The Montgomery brothers, guitarist Wes, vibist Buddy and bassist Monk, were quick to hire the young trumpeter because of his stylistic resemblance to Brown. At the age of 20 Hubbard moved to New York City, where he roomed and formed a working relationship with reedsman Eric Dolphy. Hubbard played in the bebop-oriented bands of Sonny Rollins, Philly Joe Jones and J.J. Johnson. 1960 was a banner year: Hubbard made his first album for Blue Note – Open Sesame – performed on Dolphy’s Outward Bound and Ornette Coleman’s landmark Free Jazz and then went on tour with Quincy Jones.
In 1961 Hubbard made another lasting impression with Oliver Nelson on Blues And The Abstract Truth, which resulted in the classic ‘Stolen Moments’. That same year he joined tenorman Wayne Shorter and trombonist Curtis Fuller on the front line of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the premier hard-bop ensemble. He remained a Messenger for three years, appearing on some of the band’s finest recordings. In 1964 he left the group and contributed to two more enduring sessions, Dolphy’s Out To Lunch and Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. The following year Hubbard ventured deeper into free jazz on John Coltrane’s Ascension, before joining Max Roach’s band.
In 1966 Hubbard took steps to broaden his profile, putting together a quintet that featured alto saxophonist James Spaulding. His next two recordings, Backlash – which included his perennially popular composition ‘Little Sunflower’ (1966) – and High Blues Pressure (1967), both for the Atlantic label, garnered more critical acclaim for Hubbard. His subsequent albums included the politically themed, abstract electronic composition Sing Me A Song Of Songmy (1971), and in 1970 he broke new ground on producer Creed Taylor’s CTI label. Taylor was a master at reshaping jazz with more popular flourishes such as electric instruments and strings, and Hubbard benefitted greatly from his touch. The soulful albums Red Clay (1970), Straight Life (1970) and First Light (1972) all propelled Hubbard to the top of the jazz record and radio charts.
His triumphs on CTI collapsed when Hubbard signed with Columbia Records in 1972. The label pushed the ‘contemporary’ angle, dragging the trumpeter into one shallow, poorly conceived session after another. By the mid-1970s Hubbard seemed destined for has-been status. Herbie Hancock helped to rescue Hubbard’s career by hiring him...
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