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David Weiss: Memories of Freddie Hubbard

David Weiss By

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Ascension (Impulse! Records, 1966) was a little later and I think he's on another Coltrane record before Ascension. He talked me through the concept of Ascension once. There were different tonal centers in the piece and every soloist had a different tonal center to improvise over. He talked about it as the record played and he pointed all these things out to me like he recorded the record last week. He was so serious about this music and still remembered 40 years later what was what. Freddie had an incredible memory when all his synapses were connecting (which wasn't always the case). We had to drive places like to Boston and D.C. for gigs and we played music in the car along the way. With the advent of the CD, there were a lot of things coming out with alternate takes on them and a lot of these were a revelation to the listener who had the original recording so ingrained in them. Hearing another version was quite a jolt a lot of the times. I liked playing this stuff for Freddie. He certainly remembered the records he played on and got to know his playing on them so playing him the alternate takes of tunes he recorded ages ago was fun. He liked hearing these other points of view as well, most of the time at least.

Listening to this stuff would also jog his memory about the recording date. When Mosaic put out the complete Vee-Jay recordings of Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan, Freddie was on one of Wayne's Vee-Jay records and there were a lot of alternate takes and we listened to them all while driving back to New York from Washington D.C. He's like, "yeah, I remember this. Wayne was still living in Newark and I took the bus out there to practice with him because he wrote some melodies that he thought would be a bit too high on the trumpet and he wanted to hear me and see how easily I could play them and how they sounded. I remember I was trying this mouthpiece... and so on and so on. His recall was astounding at times. If I was working on one of his tunes and had a question about something, I would call him up and play the passage in question over the phone to him to make sure that I had it right. He was like, oh no, try this triad on top of that and I'd play the chord and he'd go no, oh wait, we tried that and it didn't work. And this was something he recorded over 40 years ago. Amazing recall! Not all the time perhaps but a lot of the time!

Well, I guess he got a little maligned for the [Free Jazz sessions with Ornette Coleman] because he was the outsider on that date in a lot of people's eyes but not to the guys on the record. He was also on [John Coltrane's] Ascension and [Eric Dolphy's] Out to Lunch, which some people see as an avant-garde anthem, though to me, it's really not (it is an amazing record of course). Freddie was a great trumpet player and very open-minded musician but even in the liner notes to Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1960), they talk about Freddie not being right for this recording. That's just bullshit.

That was a very contentious time I guess. You can read an old Downbeat from the era and Ira Gitler and Dan Morganstern are going at it in print. One is "it's the future" and the other is "it's all bullshit." I don't really know if it was in the air as much with the musicians but it certainly was in the jazz press. They were saying this is progress, this is the future, and hard bop or whatever was old and in the past but in the end, that's not really the issue. Was Jackson Pollock an advancement or a reaction to something? Was it the future of painting or just another interesting approach? Avant-garde music or free jazz was certainly a reaction to swinging harmonic stuff but was it an advancement of the music or the future of the music or just a very interesting alternative.

At some point someone is going to react to the status quo, that's the nature of things and it's an important thing to happen, it needs to happen. But is it the future of music and does it negate the music that has been going on or any of that? No, it's just another option let's say. Another sound. It doesn't have to be the future of jazz; it can just be more great music. Even back then, they were trying to sell product though, so calling something the newest, greatest whatever would help sell records. There is nothing wrong with that. Selling or pushing one style of music does not have to be at the expense of another. Great music is great music. This still goes on today of course.

When I hear someone talk about how Freddie shouldn't have been on Free Jazz (and yes, I still hear people say this) I now have the best answer for this. Freddie and I were at some Smithsonian honors Jazz Masters ceremony at the Kennedy Center where they were honoring 30 or so legendary jazz musicians. They had a reception and photo shoot in the afternoon before the concert and ceremony. At the reception, Freddie was there along with Curtis Fuller, Barry Harris, Donald Byrd and many others. Ornette Coleman was there as well. I was talking to someone and we noticed that Ornette was sitting at a table in the corner by himself. There was a woman sitting with him but none of the musicians were talking to him. He was sitting at this table while everyone else was standing around and drinking, talking, laughing and generally joking around. I think Barry Harris went over to him and said hello but that was it. And then as the thing was breaking up and everyone was getting ready to leave to go to the concert, Freddie saw Ornette and walked up to him and said, "hey, what's going on Ornette." I don't know if you've heard Ornette talk but he's very soft-spoken and he said "Hey Freddie how's it going?" and Freddie was like "hey man, I saw you on the Grammy's. Where's that purple suit you wore to the Grammy's, why aren't you wearing that?" Ornette answered "well Freddie this felt like a more formal thing and I thought that maybe I'd wear a more regular suit." Then Freddie said "you put me on that record because I could play high notes." And Ornette said, "no Freddie, I got you because you had such a beautiful sound." So there you go. That should be the end of that.

So, whoever debunks or questions Freddie's presence on that record, there's the answer.

I've had to tell that story a few times to detractors who say Freddie wasn't the right guy for that record. It's a silly argument and a silly thing to say but what can you do. In the end, does some critic, musician or writer have a more important view point then Ornette Coleman about Freddie Hubbard playing on this record? I don't think so. Every one is entitled to their opinion about this of course but I know what my response will be.
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