“Fats was a spectacular musician because, in a time when cats arrived on the scene with nothing, he came on with everything: he could read, he could play high and hold anybody's first trumpet chair, he could play those singing, melodic solos with a big beautiful sound nobody could believe at the time, and he could fly in fast tempos with staccato, biting notes and execute whatever he wanted with apparently no strain, everything clear. And every note meant something. You know, there are those kinds of guys who just play a lot of notes, some good, some bad. Fats wasn't one of those. He made his music be about each note having a place and a reason. And he had so much warmth, so much feeling. That's why I said he had everything."…..Roy Haynes
The story begins in Key West, Florida where Theodore "Fats" Navarro was born of mixed Cuban-Black-Chinese parentage on September 24, 1923. His musical training began early with piano lessons at age six, but he did not start taking music seriously until he took up the trumpet at age thirteen. He became well grounded in the fundamentals of music during his high school years. He also studied tenor saxophone and played briefly with Walter Johnson's band in Miami. After graduating high school, he joined Sol Allbrights's band in Orlando, traveled with him to Cincinnati, took further trumpet lessons from an Ohio teacher, and soon went on the road with Snookum Russell's Indianapolis-based orchestra.
Russell's group, a well regarded "territorial" band in the 1940s, proved to be a valuable training ground for Fats.Such stars an J.J. Johnson and Ray Brown had paid their dues there. Fats stayed with Russell for about two years (1941-42) and became its feature trumpet soloist. At that time, his style was strongly influenced by the great Roy Eldridge and his (Fats') third cousin, the wonderful trumpet stylist Charlie Shavers. He was yet to hear and incorporate Dizzy Gillespie's and Charlie Parker's message. His next stop was with Andy Kirk and his Kansas City-based "Clouds of Joy." Here he met and forged a lasting friendship with trumpeter Howard McGhee. Maggie, as he was known, was a few years older than Fats and was an important influence in his development.
From the Andy Kirk band, Fats accepted Billy Eckstine's invitation to join up as Eckstine's band was both commercially successful and perhaps the most musically advanced. Besides Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the band included at one time or other during a brief four year span a lineup of future stars that is unprecedented in all of jazz: Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Gene Ammons, Lucky Thompson, Bud Johnson, Frank Wess, Charlie Rouse, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Cecil Payne, Tadd Dameron, Jerry Valentine, Tommy Potter, Art Blakey, and Sarah Vaughan were some of the more notable to pass through the band.