Bebop, Hard Bop & Post-Bop

Freddie Hubbard’s indisputable talent, along with his high-precision, agile trumpeting, placed him at the forefront of the art for many years, contributing to some of the most important bop records of the 20th century.

Source: “Freddie Hubbard Rochester, New York 1976” by Tom Marcello – Under Creative Commons license

The formative years of Freddie Hubbard

It was April 7th, 1938, in Indianapolis, Indiana, when Freddie Hubbard joined the human race. He was raised in the city, and by his teenage years was playing mellophone and trumpet in the Arsenal Technical High School band. Soon he was studying at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music under Max Woodbury who played trumpet in the Indiana Symphony Orchestra.

Before he was 20, Hubbard was already gigging around his hometown with Wes Montgomery and his brother Monk, as well as Larry Ridley and James Spaulding. These experiences cultivated Hubbard’s runaway skill at the jazz trumpet, but Indianapolis was not big enough to keep Hubbard for long.

In 1958, he moved to New York City, rooming with the great multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy. Early Success Hubbard quickly took advantage of the opportunities in the New York jazz scene. Even in those early years he was playing with names like Sonny Rollins, Philly Joe Jones, Slide Hampton and many more.

Within two short years, Hubbard released an album on Blue Note as the band leader. Open Sesame was an incredible first effort for the 22 year old — The Penguin Guide to Jazz considers it part of its “Core Collection.”

The next year, Hubbard was picked for John Coltrane’s Olé Coltrane, along with his old roommate Eric Dolphy. Apparently, it’s a small world at the top of jazz. Hubbard would go on to play trumpet for Coltrane again on Africa/Brass. Around that time, he also played his first international tour with Quincy Jones. What a dizzying time it must have been.

The accolades and accomplishments piled on. And all the while Hubbard began to find his distinctive sound and masterful control of the trumpet — and all the while flirting with free jazz while never fully tipping into atonality (though he did play on such free jazz classics as Free Jazz and Ascension).

He rounded out the sixties playing with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Oliver Nelson and Ornette Coleman.

Maturity and Decline

The seventies are often considered the height of Hubbard’s career both artistically and commercially.

His collaboration with producer Creed Taylor of CTI Records led to a string of successful albums from 1970 to 1972: Red Clay, Straight Life, First Light (which won the 1972 Grammy for “Best Jazz Performance by a Group”) and Sky Dive.

The production involved slow building sound and a mixture of listenability and exploration, all built on Hubbard’s jazz trumpet chops.

After these albums, Hubbard moved to Columbia Records, where he released albums like 1976’s Windjammer, an over-popified flop. This shift in his sound temporarily tarnished his otherwise sterling reputation.

Hubbard moved on undeterred. He toured with Herbie Hancock’s V.S.O.P. Quintet and managed to turn around his recording efforts by the eighties.

His own jazz group, focusing on hard bop and modal jazz, toured and found an audience. At the end of the decade, he played trumpet and flugelhorn on Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad-Hatters (Part Two).” Despite these highlights, he never quite recaptured the momentum he’d built in the early seventies.

In 1992, Hubbard split his lip, leading to an infection. That prolonged injury caused a decline of skill, and while he could still play, he never achieved the technical ability of his earlier years.

This, in combination with his growing habit of missing performances, damaged his position in the scene. Freddie Hubbard died on December 29th, 2008, in California. He left behind a tremendous body of work and an indelible impression on generations of jazz musicians and fans.

Skimming through his discography is essentially a “Best Of” list for jazz. His mastery of the trumpet and ability to work with others at the highest levels of the form are the marks of his genius. And they are the reasons why his name is synonymous with the best of jazz trumpet.