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David Weiss: Memories of Freddie Hubbard

David Weiss By

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Noted trumpeter, composer, and New Jazz Composers Octet founder, David Weiss shares several stories about his experience with trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard. As told to David Kaufman.

I met Freddie Hubbard soon after he damaged his lip. I guess what basically happened was he had a blister on his lip that popped and got infected. His doctor thought it might be cancer or something related so they did a biopsy. It came back negative and he thought he was good to go after that and just began playing again. He didn't give himself time for everything to properly heal and then practice to build everything up again. He had many concert appearance obligations that he did not want to cancel so he just picked up the horn again and hit. That didn't work of course so he had to take some time off. The infection didn't really heal, it calloused over so when he went to play, his lips didn't vibrate any more or he had to blow really hard to get his lip to vibrate at all. Of course, the calloused area did not vibrate at all or certainly not like soft, pliable lip tissue does so it became very arduous for him to play. This is where he was when I first met him and began working with him.

At the time, he owed his record company, Music Masters, a CD and they were pressuring him to do it. He wasn't really ready but felt obligated to try to make the recording. He was still trying to work his way back but the calloused area (I guess at this point it might have been scar tissue) was still there. You could visibly see where the blister had been and where the scar tissue grew over it. So the idea at the time was to buffer him a little bit—you know, add a few extra horns, write some arrangements, etc. to take some of the pressure off of him which was basically the same idea we had when we got together and did the Octet a few years later. The producers Vincent Herring and Carl Allen needed someone to make sure Freddie got to the rehearsals and recording studio and since I was a trumpet player and admired Freddie greatly, they thought I was the ideal person to pick him up and get him to the studio.

The producers hired big-shots like Bob Mintzer and Bob Belden, to write the arrangements, but they also threw me a couple of tunes to arrange as well as I had done a lot of arranging for them in the past. We got through the record and Freddie did okay. It was very interesting to watch Superman become mortal though. He didn't really have to think about how he played the trumpet for a long time as it was something that came quite naturally to him for the last 40 years. He really had to think about how to make things work again, something he probably did not have to do since his formative years practicing the trumpet and it really messed with him. He was struggling and was quite unaccustomed to that. He was hoping there was going to be a quick, easy solution to fix this but the reality was that he would have to sit down and do long tones again and build his chops back up.

We became friends—we stayed in touch after the recording and I spent many a late night talking on the phone with him. Writing those arrangements for that record is part of what motivated me to form New Jazz Composers Octet. When we made our first record, I sent it to him to check out and to hopefully get some feedback. We only did one non-original composition because the Octet was a composer's collective but that one non-original was a Freddie tune that I wrote an arrangement on for his record but I heard a few other things and wanted to expand the arrangement a bit more. So I sent the record to Freddie and he called me back and said, "you know this is what we should be doing. You should write more arrangements of my music and I should be a guest with your band."

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