Obituaries

Freddie Hubbard; Jazz Trumpeter's Solos Influential

A music critic once called Grammy winner Freddie Hubbard's sound
A music critic once called Grammy winner Freddie Hubbard's sound "almost operatic." (Photo By Corey Sipkin)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Freddie Hubbard, a Grammy-winning trumpet player whose powerful, dramatic solos were a strong influence on a younger generation of jazz musicians, died Dec. 29 at Sherman Oaks Hospital in Sherman Oaks, Calif., of complications from a heart attack. He was 70.

From the time Mr. Hubbard came to New York from his native Indianapolis in 1958, he was hailed as a trumpet virtuoso of almost unparalleled gifts. He appeared with many leading jazz figures, including John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and released a string of well-regarded recordings throughout the 1960s.

He had a series of popular albums in the 1970s, including "Red Clay" and the Grammy-winning "First Light," but ill-conceived forays into fusion and electronic music turned critical opinion against him.

In 1992, Mr. Hubbard injured his lip, all but ending his career. He made several poignant comeback attempts in recent years, including a new album released six months ago, but mostly they served to remind listeners of the huge talent that had been silenced.

"During his lengthy prime, Freddie Hubbard embodied excellence in trumpet playing," critic Ted Panken wrote in Down Beat magazine in 2001. "He had a big sound, dark and warm, almost operatic."

Early in his career, Mr. Hubbard was seen as the heir to such trumpet kings as Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown and Miles Davis, borrowing something of the style of each. He had a bold, clear tone and a dynamic technique that combined lyricism, speed and inexhaustible vigor.

"Hubbard projected the persona of trumpeter-as-gladiator, an image of strength, force and self-assurance," Panken wrote.

His early albums for Blue Note, such as "Open Sesame" (1960), "Ready for Freddie" (1961) and "Hub-Tones" (1962), immediately established him as the preeminent new trumpeter of his era.

Mr. Hubbard often said he tried to play more like a saxophonist than trumpeter, bringing a richer range of harmonic and rhythmic expression to his music.

"I thought trumpet players weren't able to express themselves as freely as saxophone players," he said. "Playing like a saxophone is harder on the chops, but it opens you up."

He was a major figure in the mainstream bebop tradition and spent three years as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, a group that was a major incubator of jazz talent for 40 years. He was also in bands led by Quincy Jones and drummer Max Roach in the mid-1960s.

At the same time, Mr. Hubbard was sought out by more avant-garde musicians and appeared on many landmark recordings, including Coleman's "Free Jazz" (1960), Oliver Nelson's "Blues and the Abstract Truth" (1961), Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" (1964), Coltrane's "Africa Brass" (1961) and "Ascension" (1965), and Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" (1965).


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