Freddie Hubbard, the influential and prolific jazz trumpeter, died Monday in Sherman Oaks, Calif., of complications from a heart attack suffered Nov. 28. He was 70. Called the “most magnificent technically endowed trumpeter of his generation,” Hubbard worked with the biggest names in jazz of his time. He played hard bop, a stylistic departure from the cool, west coast jazz of the fifties, back to jazz inflected by soul, gospel and blues influences.
After playing in his Indianapolis high school band, he started working with local jazz musicians, including guitar legend Wes Montgomery. Hubbard’s career took off after his move to New York at the age of 20 in 1958, and by 22, he had recorded his first solo album for Blue Note. A year later, he recorded “Ready for Freddie,” often called his best work.
Later that year, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, a training ground for many jazz greats. He played with Herbie Hancock through the ’60s and ’70s, including on Hancock’s concept album “Maiden Voyage.” He also appeared on groundbreaking albums by Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane. His early ’70s recordings were his most popular, and in 1972 he received a Grammy Award for “First Light.”
“His technique is overwhelming, his performance full of fire,” wrote Washington Post critic Joel Dreyfuss in 1973. “Hubbard and his group explored the harmonic limits of the tune so thoroughly that when it ended you had the feeling there wasn’t much left to be done.”
He made forays into rock jazz and pop, even collaborating with Paul McCartney, which was pooh-poohed by many in the jazz community. In 1992, Hubbard’s lip became infected from playing too hard and he never recovered his great technical skill. In a 1995 interview with Down Beat magazine, he warned young musicians not to make the same mistake.
The best way to remember him is to hear him. Here’s Hubbard performing “I Remember Clifford,” a tribute to another jazz great, Clifford Brown.