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Interviews

Meet Freddie Hubbard

By Published: December 29, 2008

I can't play what I used to play, but that's not the point. Let Jon Faddis and those guys hit those high notes--that's their thing. Now I play better in the middle register. I have more ideas, and it's better than half-hitting it.

This article was originally published in May 2001.

New Colors (Hip Bop Records), new CD

I met David Weiss a couple of years ago. He's from North Texas State. He had a rehearsal band [New Jazz Composers Octet] in New York, and he had been writing out a lot of my compositions and arranging them. He said he'd like to get together and have me play some of my material with the group. At first it was only supposed to be a one-time thing, but we're going to be working together the next couple of years until I get back strong again on my horn. They appreciate my music and give it a good feeling like when I was playing with Elvin Jones. They inspired me to start back playing again. This is an opportunity to let some of the more serious kids play this music and have it arranged for them. Craig Handy and I did a record with Betty Carter (Droppin' Things, Verve 1990) years ago. I always liked his playing. Same with Joe Chambers—he had played some of these songs with me before. I brought in Kenny Garrett and Javon Jackson as guest soloists. Those are some of the musicians I really enjoy playing with. They've played in my previous bands, they know me, and they know my style. They came in and helped me out quite a bit. I'm very happy to have made this CD.



New Jazz Composers Octet Tour

We start in New York at the Iridium May 8-13. Then we go to Annapolis, Maryland; Arlington, Virginia; Scullers in Boston; Philadelphia; a couple more things. We're gonna make the Berlin Festival this year, but I'm not going to play the West Coast yet. We'll be playing the songs on the CD and some of my other tunes David, Duane Burno and Xavier Davis have arranged. With all the horns you can hear more color. When I originally recorded some of these tunes the music went by so fast people didn't get a chance to hear them. I have a lot of songs people have never heard that will sound good with eight pieces.



Lip problems

I busted my chops. I had to go back to square one after 30-40 years of playing. I was out there trying to be Coltrane—take thirty choruses. I was working all the time, and I didn't warm up. If you don't start off getting the blood flowing later on you're chops get weaker. It wasn't from playing that commercial stuff—it was from hard-core improvising. What made my style different was a whole lot of jumps, strenuous ideas. That's what makes jazz chops different from classical chops—at any moment you may have to change your embouchure [the position of the lips when they touch the mouthpiece]. I gave it everything I had. You have to be ready for that style. It was really bad—I didn't know if I was gonna play again. I can still play, but I can't hold long tones—that's something I never had trouble with. I didn't realize there were so many muscles in the embouchure, about 120. When you're young you don't even think about it. You get a lot of bad habits—you think that's the hip way to do it, but it's tearing your chops down.



Comeback

I thank the Creator. He enabled me to attempt to come back. I have to practice, get the feeling, get the blood flowing again. If you don't do that you don't get back. I came back too soon before (in '94) when I had trouble with my chops. I'm playing the flugelhorn now because the trumpet would be too hard. Instead of playing all that hard stuff I'm gonna to play some ballads. Playing flugel is kind of messing up my chops in itself—I eventually want to get back to playing the trumpet. I can't play what I used to play, but that's not the point. Let Jon Faddis and those guys hit those high notes—that's their thing. Now I play better in the middle register. I have more ideas, and it's better than half-hitting it. It'll take another year to come back strong again. The trumpet is not like a piano or a saxophone. If you lay off it you're back to zero. I've still got a lot of stuff I want to play. I can play it on the piano—that's where I get a lot of my ideas—like [sings fast] dah-doo-dah-didli-ah-dit...bah-booo-dle-ootie...doo-deee-doo-dooodle-eedle-doodle-at...dee-dat...deee-dle-ootie. Those kinds of runs are very difficult to execute. It's the way you accent those things. I got that from playing with Sonny Rollins and Philly Joe Jones. I want to bring some that back.



Louis Armstrong

He had that funny sound. I didn't dig it when I first heard it, that Dixieland. But if you listen to him for a while he had that feeling. He didn't have that execution like Dizzy Gillespie.



Clifford Brown

When I was starting out I tried to sound like him. His execution thing and his phrasing were out of the book—Miles thought he sounded stiff. He gave me a lot of ideas. He could do it all—that style was the way I wanted to play. I was still in Indianapolis so I never got to hear him in person. When he died I cried like a baby. He was only 25 years old, and he never got his due. I've got my reward—now I've got to give some back.



Miles Davis

I used to try to play like him too—those ballads. One night he heard me at Birdland. He was sitting on the side of the stage. I had my eyes closed, and I was playing some of his licks. I looked down and saw him, and I almost passed out. When I got off he said, "Why don't you play some of your own stuff?" After that I stopped copying people. Miles and Dizzy used to tell me I played too hard and too long. I should warm up before I played. Miles might take an hour before he started. It would take him that long to get his embouchure set, but it came out pure and clean.



Lee Morgan



Yeah, I was close to that crazy ___. He and I were the Young Turks at that time. He was a cocky little young cat, and he was great, exciting, spirited. He was the only cat that could frighten me. He got messed up.



Maynard Ferguson

I used to go see that guy play at Birdland. He used to play those high C's every night. Remember when Maynard had lip trouble? He went over to England to get straightened out. He's still going strong.



Wynton Marsalis

I didn't know it at the time [late 70's], but he was going to school in New York. He came to my dressing room and played all of my licks back to me, some I'd forgotten. I said, "Where did you learn to play all that?" He said, "It's all your stuff." He's the only one I've heard who could play some of the stuff on my records. I dig that lip thing he can do—(sings) yaw-yaw-ya-yaw-yaw. He's a technician, but he's stiff—I guess he can play that way if he wants to. We did a big band thing at Carnegie Hall together.



Richard Davis

I love to play with Richard—he's fantastic. I think he's teaching now. He and I made a record [Out to Lunch, Blue Note, 1964] with Eric Dolphy that was kind of advanced. That free music is not the feeling right now.



Current favorites

I like Tom Harrell—he's a nice guy. He wakes me up—he and Roy Hargrove. You think Roy sounds like me? Maybe that's the reason I like him! I like this guy Christian McBride and Benny Green—they worked with me. I love Bobby Watson—I heard him last time I was in New York. They're keeping it going.



Favorite records

One of my first records, Ready for Freddie (Blue Note, 1961). I had full control over it. That and Red Clay (CTI, 1970) were my best playing straight up. When it comes to more commercial stuff, First Light (CTI, 1971). It has some nice arrangements, and I won a Grammy. I've met all kinds of people, old and young, that like that record. I played it with feeling. Melody Maker did a discography on me. Check this out—I've made 300 records. I started looking into it, and I found some money from these companies.



Rap

I'm entertaining ideas about doing it after I get better on my horn. Those rap cats have some crazy meters. I'll have to give it some serious thought before I do it.

Jazz education

I have students come over in the evenings. They want to play some of the fast stuff I used to play—they're in a hurry. These kids coming out of school now, they have the correct embouchure, but they don't have the strength or the time. It's hard to play the trumpet with feeling. Like Chuck Mangione—he doesn't play loud or hard, but he has that feeling. He's not trying to be hip. I used to go over to everybody's house and say, "Teach me this, teach me that." They'd show me (They'd play it on the horn.), but they didn't teach me how to execute it. They didn't take time to teach me to play it right. We used to go on the road and play with Art Blakey, Count Basie, Horace Silver in the 60's and 70's. I used to sit in with bands that were established. I learned the backgrounds, everything. It's not like that now—it's more like a vacuum.

Wrap up

I'm glad you're doing this for the Internet so people can find out about me. I have a computer now. My wife's using it to write a book. I'm 63. I don't feel like it, and I don't look like it. I still have a lot in me. Since I moved to California I haven't wanted to work much. I got discouraged for a while. I still don't want to work that hard, but if I can arrange to work about six months a year that's what I'll do. I hear all these kids playing my ideas on the radio. Sometimes I have to stop and say, "Is that me?" It feels good to hear it, but people think the kids started it. Tell the young boys to look out—Freddie Hubbard's coming back!



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