Album Review: Pinnacle by Freddie Hubbard

The end of 2008 was a tough time for me as it related to jazz, primarily because the jazz world lost Freddie Hubbard due to complications from a heart attack right before 2009.

As a trumpet player myself, Hubbard was my biggest influence, but he also struck me as a “survivor”. Both Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan were lost before their time, and Freddie tore through the 70’s with mind-blowing recordings (both live and studio) when jazz needed a trumpeter to be mind-blowing.

I swear to you, I learned how to solo from Hubbard’s recording of “Birdlike”, realized how much harder I needed to work when I heard “Red Clay” and “Straight Life”, and found out how I had no chance of being truly good (yet always inspired) after listening to his Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival recording from 1980.

While things might have declined for Hubbard both personally and professional after that, I always held the special things he did in his prime close to my heart. In situations like this, you always hope there is more. You don’t want him to leave this earth with a few sub-par albums that he struggled through and assume that was it.

For those who have longed to come across some unheard gem from  Freddie (and I certainly was one of them), then Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased from Keystone Korner is like that unopened Christmas present that had been forgotten about in the closet for several months until it was wandered across.

Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased from Keystone Korner features live recordings from June and October of 1980, and offers everything a fan would want if they were to be handed a CD from someone who said “Hey, I found some previously unreleased live Hub for ya.” Certainly not polished or commercial enough to ever get a spin on radio, but filled with life and personality that reminds you of why he was so great to begin with.

With this CD, I was actually glad that it wasn’t perfect, at least in the studio quality sense of the word. There are hints of distortion from time to time, but that helps me actually picture Freddie playing with the bell of his horn encompassing the microphone. The balance is off from time to time, but it helps me actually picture the rest of the band around and behind him up on a stage.

And his improvisation is as good as it always was, offering speed, tone, creativity, and range on all tracks, helping me once again refresh my mindset of one of the most talented jazz musicians ever.

For those of us from the Pacific Northwest (and in many cases, beyond), this recording offers even more sentiment, as a few of the tracks feature the late Seattle favorite Hadley Caliman, who passed away at the end of 2010. To hear Freddie and Hadley tear it up on “Giant Steps” brings back wonderful memories of two talents gone but not forgotten.

This is a great album that should be added to your collection, but do yourself a favor and purchase the actual CD, rather than a digital download. The liner notes are exceptional, and feature wonderful photos of Freddie and Hadley, as well as Larry Klein, Eddie Marshall, Billy Childs, David Schnitter, and Phil Ranelin, who make up the rest of the musicians on this release.

Fans of Freddie Hubbard should treat this release as a collectors item and something to smile about versus something that comes up on an Mp3 shuffle. Highly recommended.


Blue Note Records Turns 70…and My Top 10 Blue Note Jazz Recordings

blue-note-resizedThis year blue Note Records turned 70 years old. While many other record labels have come and gone over 70 years, Blue Note has not only managed to stay in business, but to continue to turn a profit and avoid having to cut down on their artist roster. In recent years, this is due in large part to their online download sales and some successful crossover artists including Norah Jones and Al Green.

Below is my list of my top 10 favorite Blue Note jazz recordings. As with all of my lists, this list simply offers my own personal favorites, and I truly encourage you to mention yours as well! Enjoy.

10. Birth of the Cool – Miles Davis – 1949

birth-of-cool The oldest recording on the list, but a great chance to hear Miles in the early stages of what would lead to super stardom.

9. Moanin’ – Art Blakey – 1958

moanin One of the finest examples of why Blakey was not only a great musician, but a great band leader and mentor to those who he recorded with.

8. Consummation – Thad Jones – 1970

consummation This album is not only one of the greatest big band albums ever, but features what might be the sweetest, most beautiful ballads ever with A Child is Born.

7. Song For My Father – Horace Silver – 1964

song-for-my-father I played in a small group once where our director made our pianist listen to this album over and over until our pianist “finally got it”. Silver was one of the best at playing with his group, rather than just playing.

6. Maiden Voyage – Herbie Hancock – 1965

maiden-voyage When you listen to the title track, it might seem simple in structure. But only Herbie and his hand-picked group could make it sound so perfect.

5. The Sidewinder – Lee Morgan – 1963

sidewinder There is not likely a musician who I wish could have had more time to produce more recordings than Lee Morgan. Losing him at age 33 was a tragedy, but what he did produce withstands the test of time.

4. In Pursuit of the 27th Man – Horace Silver – 1970

in-pursuit-of-27th1 An album that brought energy into the 70’s, as well as the young Brecker Brothers. Enjoyable the whole way through.

3. Empyrean Isles – Herbie Hancock – 1964

empyrian-isles This album hosts what is probably one of the most recognizable jazz tunes, even if you aren’t a jazz fan. Once again, Hancock gets together the perfect cast for these memorable recordings.

2. Ready For Freddie – Freddie Hubbard – 1961

ready-for-freddie I could listen to Freddie solo on Birdlike for hours. Whether playing fast or slow, high or low, Hubbard could always keep his solos imaginative and interesting.

1. Blue Train – John Coltrane – 1957

blue-train The first Coltrane album I ever owned, and years later it still gets heavy rotation on my personal playlist. One of the finest recordings in the history of jazz.

In Remembrance of Freddie Hubbard

It had barely been a few hours after I finished my Eartha Kitt remembrance when I received the news…


I showed up to college thinking that “audition music” was simply a formality, and that when I did finish my trumpet audition for one of the most prestigious jazz programs in the country, that I would then and there be offered a music scholarship that I simply hadn’t applied for.

I went to the music building and grabbed the packet of audition music. Of the three tunes inside, one was Freddie Hubbard’s Birdlike, to be performed before members of the jazz faculty and the department head at recording tempo.

I’ll spare you the embarrassing details of my audition, and just let you know that I was given the fifth chair in the second of two big bands, which I was convinced was given to me simply because they felt sorry for me. A sample of my improvisational skills to get into one of the small groups was not requested. I was offered a music scholarship however…of sorts. The school payed for me to take more lessons.

But it was the tune Birdlike that changed my trumpet playing world. Because I’m such a tragic sight-reader, I had to buy the recording, which, in my ignorance, I had never heard before. Freddie flew through the head of the song with such ease, why my fingers tripped over themselves and the valves. Freddie soloed and soloed…and soloed…without repeating a lick. I seemed to play the same few licks containing the same few notes limited by a botched homemade embouchure change that destroyed my range…over and over.

Over the next few years, I could not get my hands on enough Freddie Hubbard recordings. And I could not tell you how many hundreds of hours I spent practicing my trumpet, wanting to play just like Freddie (much to my roommates chagrin). I would fumble through the changes on Red Clay or Straight Life while listening to Hubbard play extended solos on live recordings of those tunes. I tried desperately to play Here’s That Rainy Day as sweetly as Hub did, only to realize that not only would I never possess his tone, but by copying him I was only being unoriginal – the exact opposite of what Freddie Hubbard was.

Make your own list of the top five jazz trumpeters of all time and you will likely find Freddie Hubbard among the group. In his prime he was so superior on so many levels. For anyone who might put as much time dedicating themselves to the same craft as him, playing the trumpet, his recordings and abilities would only make you that much more appreciative of what he contributed to music. I had heard a variety of stories as to what happened to Freddie Hubbard’s chops, and frankly, none of them really make a difference. He is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest influence on me as a musician.

It had barely been a few hours after I finished my Eartha Kitt remembrance when I received the news. I didn’t even know that Freddie had suffered a heart attack around Thanksgiving. He had died Monday, December 29th, 2008 from complications of that heart attack.

I tried to explain to people around me, typically people who weren’t big jazz fans, why Freddie Hubbard was so important to me, the same way I did in January of 2007 when my other musical hero Michael Brecker died. I tried to explain, while choking up, by using analogies and metaphors in terms that they might be able to apply to their own life. “It’s kinda like if you wanted to be a professional basketball player and you spent hundreds of hours watching and studying and practicing to be Michael Jordan”, I would say.

I felt like it wasn’t the point I was really trying to make, and whatever point I personally was trying to make wasn’t likely made. I told the same people that I would be playing some Freddie Hubbard songs on my radio program that night to remember him. I’m not sure why, since the people I told weren’t jazz fans, nor listeners, nor did I expect them to listen, nor did they know who Hubbard was until I told them.

The next day, three of them (none of them jazz fans) all came up to me and said the same thing. They had listened to my program, and all said that Here’s That Rainy Day might have been the most beautiful recording they had ever heard.

Once again, Freddie Hubbard had been able to do what I only what I could only try to do. He made people fall in love with his music.

Watch Freddie Hubbard play I Remember Clifford:

Watch Freddie Hubbard play Birdlike:

Watch Freddie Hubbard play Straight Life:

Building A Dream Big Band

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be piecing together, section by section, my ideal jazz big band. This band will be comprised simply of my favorites, and there are no requirements as to who may be a part of this band, including whether or not the musician is alive or dead. I encourage you to offer your opinion on how your dream big band might differ.

The band will consist of 21 members: five trumpets, five saxes, four trombones, piano, bass, drums, guitar, two singers, and a bandleader.

Today, I submit to you the trumpet section. Enjoy!

Lead Trumpet: Arturo Sandoval

A lead trumpet player has to be able to hit any high note with the same quality of tone as if he or she was playing middle range notes. Jazz virtuoso Arturo Sandoval was probably my easiest pick for this band. Arturo is easily the most versatile trumpet player in all aspects. Amazing tone, an unmatchable range, fast fingers, and technically perfect. A dream lead trumpet player for any band.

Watch Arturo Sandoval play Cherokee:

Second Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis

Second chair in a trumpet section is typically the featured soloist, so my second chair has to be extremely creative and entertaining. To me Wynton is as creative and interesting as it gets when playing a trumpet solo. He has been a featured soloist in nearly every band he has played in, which is why he sits in chair two as the sections featured soloist.

Watch Wynton Marsalis play Harmonique:

Third Trumpet: Freddie Hubbard

I have often credited Freddie Hubbard as my all-time favorite trumpet player. In his prime you could hear him solo for ten minutes and never hear him repeat a single lick. Freddie is the guy that could play a fast solo or a beautiful ballad…no matter the solo, you would never get bored.

Watch Freddie Hubbard play Straight Life:

Fourth Trumpet: Miles Davis

Traditionalists may hold it against me for seating Miles at fourth chair in this section, if for no other reason than his legend, but this is my band and this is where I seat him. Miles gives this section personality and genius. He might not play as high or as fast as the others, but his personality, sound and perspectives on improvisation truly perfect this trumpet section.

Watch Miles Davis play So What:

Fifth Trumpet: Thad Jones

I actually like this band with a four-piece trumpet section, with Thad stepping out on the stage to be featured on ballads on the flugelhorn. I still don’t know if there is a horn player who can play a ballad as sweetly as Thad Jones.

Watch Thad Jones play Only For Now from Suite For Pops 2:

So far, a great start to my dream band. Let me know what you think! And I hope you enjoyed the great recordings!

Next time, the trombone section.