Clearly, it was an important thing for us. Freddie was a monster and you want to be around that. Some of us were just talking about this yesterday at a rehearsal for a gig I'm doing at Smoke Jazz Club
with my Sextet. Three of the guys in that band were in the Octet as well and touring with Freddie for all those years so we all have our Freddie stories. We were also talking about how each new generation is more and more disconnected from that music and those musicians and how that's probably not a good thing. They're listening to their records but not seeing those guys live and certainly not seeing those guys live during their prime. We moved to New York to hear and play with those guys and become part of what that was. It's something different now. They listen to those records but it's not what's happening around them so it's kind of hard to get the feel or energy of that music played at the level. There was a great energy when you walked into a club and heard one of these masters and that made everyone want to be a part of it. These recent generations are completely disconnected from that. When we tell them as teachers or as experienced musicians that that's the stuff that you have to deal with if you're ever going to get anywhere, they look at you like, "that stuff already happened, that stuff's old. We're tired of hearing about the good old days. We have our own thing." And you know what, that's fine, more power to you and good luck with that but we got a taste of dealing with some of the guys who defined this music and that's important and quite meaningful to me. For me, it has continued with The Cookers
. I think most of us are most attracted to that era of jazz and it still what basically defines this music. That spirit is still in almost all the jazz music played today.
Those guys are what made it great and no matter where I go with music, no matter where I take it, having the experience with those guys gives me a sense of something at least and hopefully adds some depth to my work. I know I played with Freddie Hubbard and I know that I hung out with him and got to know him really well but sometimes I didn't associate him with the guy on those records. I didn't always make that connection because those guys are some sort of mythical figures now. They're unattainable to these kids but even to us you know it wasn't always, that's that guy who I listen to on all those records. But either way, he was the guy and we got that experience. He was a lot nicer to us than he had been to young musicians in the past because he was very self-conscious about where he was so he wasn't as rough on us. That generation can be rough and very critical but usually not malicious. They have a certain devotion to this music and they want it to be done a certain way because that's what they were made to do. And they were as serious as you can get. Freddie was a jovial guy and he was as funny as they came when he was on a roll. I remember even at his funeral, people were paying tribute to him by saying, "Freddie was such a nut, he was crazy and funny and well." Well he was but he was also the most serious musician that I had ever met in my life. You know, dead serious! This stuff meant something to him. If he heard someone talking the wrong way about music or saying something that he felt was misrepresenting the music or misrepresenting what he thought the music was about he would get pissed off. He would say, no, that's not right, that's not the way it's supposed to be. He put a lot of work into this music and had great pride and great passion about what he did and wanted things done right. It's a craft and an art form and he was dead serious about it. He might not have presented himself as a serious guy, like I said he was jovial, very fun to hang out with and cracking jokes or whatever but when it came to the music, it was serious business.
If you were with him and if you tried hard, he was in your corner and if you weren't, he'd let you know. There are plenty of scary stories I've heard about Freddie where you hear of him throwing somebody off the bandstand or him yelling at somebody on the bandstand because they over-played or didn't know a tune they were supposed to know. That sort of thing doesn't happen anymore and maybe the music suffers a bit because there aren't guys like this out here saying, you know you're good but this is not good enough. Maybe we need that motivation. I'm sure it wasn't pleasant to have Freddie Hubbard go off on you but you went home and learned the music or did whatever it was he asked of you and that made you a better musician.
I don't know if my own personal choice to be around giants that oftentimes made me feel about a foot tall, but as a musician, it is the best thing in the world, and I consider myself fortunate to be around such great musicians. Freddie was the epitome of that. He clearly had a lot of natural talent and natural ability but nobody worked harder than him and that's what really made the difference.
Photo credit: Jimmy Katz