Jazz Legend Freddie Hubbard Talks Life, Career Before his death in December 2008, jazz legend Freddie Hubbard spoke with NPR's Tony Cox.
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Jazz Legend Freddie Hubbard Talks Life, Career

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Jazz Legend Freddie Hubbard Talks Life, Career

Jazz Legend Freddie Hubbard Talks Life, Career

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TONY COX, host:

Here's a News & Notes listener favorite.

Sensitive and precise, iconic and gregarious, competitive, upfront and in your face. It sounds like I'm talking about an eccentric athlete, right? Well, in a way, it describes the great trumpet of Freddie Hubbard. Now, when I spoke with Hubbard late last year, he was 70 at the time and promoting his final CD, "On the Real Side." You're hearing a track from it now. Well, Hubbard seemed very unsettled by his inability to perform as he once did. So here's that conversation.

(Soundbite of interview)

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

Mr. FREDDIE HUBBARD (Jazz Musician): A lot of it, I don't have the chops because I use to play the head, I used to play the solos, and all the shouts and all of that. But so the - one of the guys, David Weiss(ph), he plays trumpet. He says, I'll arrange this stuff. Give me a song, and I'll arrange it so you don't have play all the way through.

COX: How big a deal is this for you, Freddie Hubbard? Is this sort of a moment of, you know, am I able to do and be what I once was or am I having to accept that time has put me in a different place? Are you sort of at that?

Mr. HUBBARD: So much that because you have to realize at one time or another in your career when you get a little older, you can't do the things that you did before. Now, it's been very hard for me to accept that. I never - I felt like - I always felt like I could blow it and nothing would never happen until this happened. So now, it's - no matter how hard I practice, it just seem like I can't do the plays I did. But people tell me, they say, man, you don't have to prove nothing. All you have to do is play good enough to get your point across because you're not going to play like - I'm not going to play like I did when you played those earlier records. And I'm just - it's hard for me to accept that, you know, all I want is young (unintelligible) getting off on me, you know.

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

COX: Let's go back to 1964. This is "Breaking Point."

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

Mr. HUBBARD: See, I was trying to play like a saxophone.

COX: You did it.

Mr. HUBBARD: Yeah, but I didn't realize the difficulty of doing that because you're not supposed to play the trumpet like that. I need(ph) getting with these saxophone players. I wanted to play like them, so.

COX: You know, 1964, you were like - you were hot, you were on fire. What was it like at that time to be Freddie Hubbard the star, the headliner?

Mr. HUBBARD: You know, I was there, and I was in a competition - not - you know, a competition with Lee Morgan(ph) and Bill Holland(ph) and Donald Barry(ph), all these guys were there, and it was a test. I mean, every time you played, you were being watched and people compared you with - look at little Lee Morgan. So that competition kind of kept me going, you know. I mean, they made me strive to play better than I would normally.

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

COX: What was the high point for you?

Mr. HUBBARD: The high point, I would say, is when I was with CTI Records.

COX: Creed Taylor.

Mr. HUBBARD: And he had some ideas for me that really catapulted my career. And he wanted to get me a Grammy. I think I won a Grammy before Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, 1972, a long time ago. Not that I thought I didn't deserve it but not before a lot of the guys who hadn't received one who were great.

COX: And that was "Red Clay" first live(ph)?

Mr. HUBBARD: Yeah. That was the scene I went out. Before I did that song, Creed said, man, write a hit. I said, oh, sure, it'll be gold(ph). Because commercialism never really fazed me. I mean, playing songs that - in links that you knew everybody would like. I always wanted to be a true jazz artist, you know that. But Creed said, write a hit, so I wrote "Red Clay." And all my friends who were jazz musicians, they said, man, you writing that square stuff. So I kind of - but that tune has earned me a living.

COX: That's a great tune.

Mr. HUBBARD: I mean - and it reminded me of my early childhood when I was back in Indianapolis.

COX: They have red clay in Indiana?

Mr. HUBBARD: No, because the guys used to sit on the porch and play their guitars and (unintelligible). And then would beat to the tap of their foot. So I kind of adapted that tanta-ta-tan-tum, tanta-ta-tan-tum(ph). I mean, because - I mean, my people - my relatives, most of them were from Jackson, Mississippi. So when they migrated to Indianapolis, they kind of brought a lot of that feeling.

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

Mr. HUBBARD: When he said write a hit, that one song people know me all over the world, in Russia, Africa, Japan, all over the world, people, the first thing they say when they see me, "Red Clay."

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

COX: In the course of your career, you had, obviously, highs and you had some lows, and they've been described as personal problems. Without going into detail, are we to assume that those problems were substance abuse related?

Mr. HUBBARD: Well, substance abuse, I wouldn't really say I had a problem with that. I mean, I would say that at one period in the '70s, I started partying, I was in Hollywood A-list(ph). And everybody would come up there, I mean, all kind of movie stars, all kind of football stars, basketball stars, actors. And I had a spot right there in (unintelligible) overlooking the (unintelligible). And the people that I had coming up there - now, the substance abuse, it was around because a lot of people who would come to see me would bring it. But I would never really say I had a habit or anything like that.

But I had more of a drinking thing. I started drinking that Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola, and it tore my stomach up, so that was one period I wish I could forget. But you know, when you're partying and you're young and you make a little money and you're just having fun, and you can overdo it.

COX: You mentioned David Weiss. He was quoted as saying something, and I want to know if it really is true that he said it and how you feel about it. He called you, quote, "the Barry Bonds of jazz." Did he do that?

Mr. HUBBARD: I wasn't there. If he did it, I'm going to smack him.

COX: (Laughing) I'm not sure what he meant but I...

Mr. HUBBARD: Did he say that?

COX: Yeah, well, that's the quote. The context of it was that people were putting off on you or putting responsibility on you for things that other musicians were doing when it came to substance abuse or drugs or problems or whatever sort of thing is. He said, everybody wants to sort of put this off on Freddie. He's the Barry Bonds of jazz.

Mr. HUBBARD: Yeah, well, like a lot of people, I think are kind of envious of me in that they can't play a lot of stuff that I play, but yet they don't want to admit it. Now whatever reason that they dislike me, it has nothing to do with what I play.

See, no matter what you said about Charlie Parker(ph), you still created that. Now maybe because of the substance abuse or whatever - because in the past I used to - I used to wouldn't take any stuff from a lot of people, and I would open my mouth sometimes and say some things to some people because I was believing it was right. But there's a certain way you have to do things and say things to people for them to give you the respect. When it comes to other people, they may say some things about me that maybe I did do some of those things. So that determines their outlook on me.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: When you have those moments, when you are alone at home, in your car, wherever, the backyard, when you sit back and look back over your career, does a smile come to your face?

Mr. HUBBARD: You know what? At one time, there were times (unintelligible). I mean, I don't believe like there's no one person (unintelligible). But when I think I can be put in the same setting with Miles or Dizzy or Clifford Brown or - I mean, anywhere in there, you realize how many trumpet players are in the world, and to be accepted all over the world as contributing something to this music that maybe nobody else could play on, they like it, a smile comes to my face.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: That was my conversation with jazz great Freddie Hubbard conducted not long before he passed away on December 29, 2008.

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