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The Freddie Hubbard Tribute Band at the Indianapolis Jazz Festival

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The Freddie Hubbard Tribute Band
Indianapolis Jazz Festival
Indianapolis, Indiana
Sept 25, 2009

When losing a trumpeter of such sterling agility, originality and influence as Freddie Hubbard, it's only natural to pay tribute to his passing. So it was at the Madame Walker Theater in Indianapolis on September 25th under the direction of jazz educator David Baker, another local musical legend and a contemporary of Hubbard's.

What made the difference was the band of brothers that Baker congregated to honor his memory. A glittering group of players who will not likely be found on the same stage again were called together—four trumpeters, Derrick Gardner, Nicholas Payton, Randy Brecker and Pharez Witted, Rob Dixon on tenor sax, Vincent Gardner, trombone (brother of Derrick), James Spaulding (alto sax, flute), an illustrious colleague of Hubbard's, Steve Allee (piano), Rufus Reid (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums).

Freddie Hubbard came to prominence in the early '60's, with such albums as Ready for Freddie (Blue Note, 1961), Oliver Nelson's seminal The Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse, 1961), Eric Dolphy's masterpiece Out to Lunch (Blue Note, 1964), Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1965), his star finally ascending to national prominence with Red Clay (1970, CBS), and as a sideman with John Coltrane on Ascension (Impulse, 1965) and Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1960). His influence on other trumpeters can be heard to this day; even the players on the stage admitted allegiance to his hand. Baker recounted a tale of Hubbard emptying his pockets and walking on his hands two blocks down Broadway from 52nd Street, the jazz mecca of Indianapolis at the time—for the pure fun of it. The evening's music reflected this upside-down perspective; Allee and Derrick Gardner preserved the sense of dexterity and unexpectedness in their arrangements of his music.

Here was mainstream jazz at its most supple and surprising; they played many of Hubbard's best tunes: "Byrdlike," "Crisis," "Arietas," "Hub-tones," "Prophet Jennings" plus many other lesser-known and familiar works. The spot-on timing and precise interplay bordered on the telepathic, particularly from Derrick Gardner, Brecker and Whitted; yet everyone had a distinctive voice. From Payton's peacock to Rob Dixon's poignant soulfulness, Vincent Gardner's sometimes smooth, sometimes guttural trombone, Spaulding's ascending flute to Reid's soul- scratching bass, all were original, all conversational, yet no one grandstanding at another's expense.

The last song of the set, "Little Sunflower," demonstrated what happens when masters of their craft choose to come together and sing for a fallen fellow. A finale in every sense of the word, even Hubbard himself would have been blown away by the legacy he created in these young lions. It was like watching "The Navy Seals meet Cirque de Soleil," so pristine was their creativity and athleticism.

The spirit of Broadway and 52nd is still alive and well and flourishing in Indianapolis. The Jazz Festival continues through the weekend.

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