Freddie Hubbard just didn't have all the luck in the world. He even had the misfortune of dying at the wrong time, just between Christmas and New Year's, on December 29th 2008. But that shouldn't silence the fact that when Hubbard was on, he was a barn-burning trumpeter who deserves to be in the top five of all time, if not higher.
Always young and feisty in appearance, with a pugnacious quality that did not win friends and influence people, Hubbard made a splash as a sideman with Herbie Hancock and as a mainstay of the early Blue Note hard bop and post-bop forces of the early '60s. As rock was making its presence felt, Hubbard's ferocious technique combined with daring, innovative rhythm and phrasing to etch some of the most blistering solos ever put down. Right up there with Louis's Hot Fives.
Listen to him gallop, pounce, blat, attack, and retreat on "Dolphin Dance" (from Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage). Hear how he rips it up on the epochal Speak No Evil, Wayne Shorter's masterpiece. On 1965's live Night of the Cookers his solos, extended, combined with Pete La Roca's combustive drumming, turn his horn into a talisman. Especially on Jodo he gets as close to Coltrane's flight as anyone on the three-valved instrument ever did. Digest the funk that oozes from his horn on one of his masterpieces as a leader, Red Clay one of the brightest lights in the CTI catalog. When Hubbard was on, he could supercharge a tune like Charlie Parker. Daring, breathtaking, inspired, completely from the gut.
As it stands, Hubbard, even though his fury may have diluted over time, bent that horn to heights that neither Dizzy, nor Lee Morgan, nor Wynton could ever quite reach. There is dross in his catalog, but the gold shines so brightly it's worth searching out. And, it seems, Freddie knew it. I distinctly remember reading a quote from Hubbard in a music magazine in the '70s where he actually had the audacity to rip Miles Davis! (And Davis ripped him right back, boxer that he was.) Gotta love a guy that has those kind of cojones. And, when you listen to the way he tore it up with his run, you already knew it. If you care about trumpet playing, jazz, or life, celebrate Freddie. I'm sure he'd appreciate it. - Ken Krimstein
Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.