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Freddie Hubbard

(4.7.38 – 12.29.08)

What was it like to hear Freddie Hubbard live in a club when he was really on? It was the most unbelievable thing you ever heard, and you remembered it for the rest of your life. He had the greatest sense of time ever in the history of mankind. You know, the guy had everything, the full package. Freddie was, at one point in his career, the undisputed heavyweight champion. And to go from that to where he got at his lowest point, it was rough. Even though I was never actually in his band, I was around him enough and talked to him enough to know it bothered him a great deal. But, you know, his musicianship never left him even if his technical facility did.

The first time I played with Hub, it was at a Friends of Jazz concert in Pennsylvania in the late ’80s. The gig was totally magical and he was in unbelievably great shape. Shortly after that we were doing one of those Japanese concept records [Manhattan Projects’ Piccadilly Square, recorded in December 1989]. It was me, Roy Hargrove, Donald Brown, Carl Allen and Ira Coleman, and Freddie was supposed to play on just two tracks. We laid down three tracks before Freddie showed up and, you know, we all thought we sounded good. We listened to the playback and we’re all patting ourselves on the back, complimenting each other. And when Freddie showed up, he took his horn out to warm up and he instantly sounded super-human. I looked at Roy and we both just felt like kids, man. Nobody said anything, but it was just so obvious when he starting playing, the difference of the level between Freddie and the rest of us. It sure was unbelievably impressive when he did that, and Roy just put on some dark shades. I’m sure he felt like I did but even more so, being a trumpet player. It was terrifying, man! But it also made me do a little soul-searching, like, “Man, am I really trying to play music on that level?” It was truly scary but very important. Because what it did was it let you know where the bar was.

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