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David Weiss: Memories of Freddie Hubbard

David Weiss By

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Some days he would see the beauty in that and some days, well, he would get down on himself and sometimes even apologize to the audience for not being the Freddie Hubbard of old. But he did OK on this gig and it was the first gig of a three-week tour. You know one thing I don't think he ever fully accepted was that in the past, whatever his behavior was or whatever people would say about this or that, Freddie always knew he could get on stage and play trumpet and blow all that stuff away. His trumpet would clear everything up. That was his answer. Whatever happened before if he had a problem with a promoter or he was a little arrogant to somebody or whatever it was, he would walk onstage and win everybody over, everything would be fine. He didn't feel that he had that ability anymore which made him a little nicer, but it also made him very self-conscious since he was used to having an audience in the palm of his hands. I don't think he realized that he still had that because he was telling himself well I'm not playing like I should but they loved him anyways and he didn't always realize that.

We played a 70th Birthday celebration with him at Yoshi's in San Francisco and the audience sang him Happy Birthday and threw flowers and cards on the stage. It really broke him up. I really think he didn't know how much people loved him or if he did he rarely acknowledged it but at the moment he could see it and it really meant so much to him. This was the last year of his life and it was great that he had that memory from one of the last gigs he ever did. He was also pretty weak at the point in his life and wasn't playing that well so that these people showed him this much love when he felt he wasn't playing that well was really telling for him I think. He was really hard on himself, you don't get that good without being hard on yourself, and while you wanted to motivate him to play his best, you also wanted him to understand that these people loved him anyways, even if he wasn't having his best night. But he was still hard on himself, that's who he was and like I said, sometimes he would even apologize to the audience. He would say he was tired or jet-lagged and to come back later in the week and he would be better.

I would have to talk to him afterwards and say, "Freddie, you know they're just happy to see you. They love you and support you and there's no need for you to point out that you are not what you think you should be. You know, they're happy with this. You've got a great band, we're playing your music and this is the Freddie Hubbard show but it's the complete Freddie Hubbard show. You're band leading, you're composing and your charisma and all of that other stuff is legitimate stuff. We've created this presentation of your music for you and if your chops are feeling good and you're playing well then that's a bonus, that's great but if they're not, you still have all of us and we all have your back. Everybody will like it so don't worry, they love you, they're happy to see you." Some nights he would get this more than others. He is Freddie Hubbard you know, no other trumpet player has really done what he can do and he knew it (though he was keenly aware of what some other trumpet players could do that he couldn't do). That's how he was used to winning everyone over so it was quite an adjustment for him to have to do it another way.

But again, you knew he would get used to it. I mean even when he talked about earlier times when he could still really play, it was clear that he had his insecurities. He certainly had an ego but if you got him talking a certain way about a certain time, you could see he was in awe of certain musicians and he remembered the few times that other trumpet players, in his opinion, got the better of him on stage. He came up in a time when everybody was scary and he was a competitive guy so it just made him practice harder. He would tell me how Lee Morgan would intimidate him and how in awe he was of Miles Davis when he first came up. From the stories he told me about Sonny Rollins, who he thought was one of the greatest tenor saxophonists ever (and I certainly concur), it sounded like he had his insecurities as well but this is also part of what drove these guys to become the incredible musicians they became. It was a very heavy time with a lot of people around who could scare you to death. Freddie and I used to talk all the time about the difference between generations and what motivated him and I said, Freddie, it sounds like fear was a great motivating factor. Everywhere you go you could get your ass kicked no matter how good you play. I don't think that happens as much these days.

Freddie was from Indianapolis and moved to New York when he was 20. He was blown away by the scene he encountered here. He had made a couple of records in Indianapolis before he left with the Montgomery brothers and I think he did some things in Chicago as well. I believe he moved to New York in 1958 and was recording pretty much right away. He talked about moving to New York and trying to sit in somewhere and they'd tell him" go sit down kid, we'll call you up" and they never called him up. At the end of the night they'd say "Oh man I'm sorry man, come back tomorrow" and he'd go through the same thing the next night. It was a different time and it was pretty rough. Freddie was already really good of course but this motivated him to go home and practice even more. He practiced and practiced. He didn't move to New York to be told by someone to go sit in a corner and it motivated Freddie to get even better and show those people.

Eventually he got a established and began meeting people. He would go to Sonny Rollins house every day to practice with him or just to watch him practice. He started going to John Coltrane's house as well. At first, he would just let Freddie in and would go back to practicing and Freddie would just sit down and watch him practice for hours. Then one day, Coltrane said come on we've got to go somewhere and they got in the car and drove to Rudy Van Gelder's [the celebrated recording engineer] studio and he let Freddie play on a couple of tracks on the album they were recording. I think the album was called the [early John Coltrane recording] Believer (Prestige, 1964) or something. Freddie was really young on it, maybe 20 years old.
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