Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Remembering Freddie Hubbard

I was glad to see that the obituary for Freddie Hubbard on the Telegraph Web site made particular note of his participation in both John Coltrane's "Ascension" and Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz." "Ascension" was my first exposure to Hubbard at a time when, as I have previously noted, I was spending much of my time listening to the music of Anton Webern. It was through "Ascension" that I recognized that jazz deserved listening as serious as that I was devoting to Webern; and, since the liner notes gave a meticulous account of the order of the solos, much of that serious listening became a matter of learning each of those solo voices. I had heard wild trumpet playing before, particularly since the trumpet players in my high school band all idolized Maynard Ferguson; but Hubbard was different. He was downright scary, totally embracing the no-boundaries spirit that Coleman and Coltrane had been cultivating. Ultimately, he paid a price for his adventurism, since, as Peter Keepnews wrote in his International Herald Tribute obituary, his forceful style ultimately led to lip problems, compelling him to mellow out his style. Keepnews quoted his advice to younger musicians:

Don't make the mistake I made of not taking care of myself. Please, keep your chops cool and don't overblow.

One summer when Curtis Fuller was visiting the Stanford Jazz Festival, he spoke about Hubbard the same way. Nevertheless, there was something unique about the ways in which Hubbard challenged us to listen to him; and I find those challenges missing in most of today's jazz performers. Taking care of yourself is important, but just because you have the good sense to be careful about things does not mean that you should avoid risks that may ultimately lead you to new territories. A cool body is the best vessel for a hot mind.

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