Cranky About Freddie

People have expressed surprise that I haven't written anything about Freddie Hubbard in the wake of his recent demise. It was left to Ken to cover that topic, because I just couldn't bring myself to praise someone I've long considered overrated. Yes, once upon a time he was good, with flashes of brilliance. His LP Breaking Point is an undeniable classic, and his work on Bobby Hutcherson's Dialogue helped make it one of the finest albums of the era. But he was inconsistent even during his peak period; I don't think there was ever a point where I'd have considered him one of the five best active trumpeters, much less one of the five best ever. I'm calling his peak 1961-65, from when his tone got good (on 1960's Open Sesame his tone is unfocused) to the end of his time as a leader for Blue Note. Modern trumpeters (which omits Louis Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Buck Clayton, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Ruby Braff) operating in '61-65 that I prefer to Freddie: Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Johnny Coles, Art Farmer, Clark Terry. Just as good: Don Cherry, Ted Curson, Lee Morgan. Could all of them get around on the instrument like Hubbard? No. But music is about more than playing lots of notes quickly. I like their ideas, their feeling, just as much or more. That's very much a matter of personal taste, obviously, but it boils down to me considering him at his peak to have been far from the best modern trumpeter on the scene. And don't get me started regarding his contribution to Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, so often cited as evidence of his stylistic versatility. He sounds uncomfortable and lost, out of his element, reduced to noodling that has nothing to do with the concepts being used by the rest of the players on that landmark session. After he left Blue Note, his music went downhill as his taste went from unreliable to awful. I have never understood the fuss about Red Clay, which is merely mediocre, though I suppose jazz fans who weren't into the avant-garde or fusion had to take what they could get in the early '70s. Then his chops went, after which he was painful to listen to.

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