All things change, including the arts and jazz. The December 2008 death of Indy native and groundbreaking jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard closes an era of which most Hoosiers are unaware.
Hubbard was an unrestrained jazz artist. His fiery trumpet technique dominated the jazz world between the '60s and '80s. Like his trumpet style, Hubbard's lifestyle was legendary in the jazz community. Musicians that performed with Hubbard share numerous stories about his eccentricities.
Hubbard had a reputation for being a no-show at certain gigs. In fairness to Hubbard, my conversations with him showed that he was a man who took pride in his musical abilities and set the bar high for himself. If Hubbard was a no-show, it was surely because he knew he could not physically perform at his best for a gig.
After Hubbard sustained massive damage to his lips, he found himself unable to perform very often. He admitted to me in a phone conversation, "During that time I didn't want to waste time. I just wanted to pick up the horn and blow. I thought I was some kind of superman."
Hubbard, noted as a natty dresser, took pride in his personal appearance. Last year at the Indy Jazz Fest, I asked him why, even at 70 years, he didn't have gray hair. In a response typical to Hubbard, he said, "I color my hair black now. I am thinking about letting it go grey. I'm just not ready to do it yet."
The best memorials to Freddie Hubbard are the dozens of recordings and videos that document his career. It's sad that Indiana-born jazz artists like Freddie Hubbard and trombonist J.J. Johnson, men who changed the face of jazz and how it is played, are hardly recognized by Indy residents. Guitarist Wes Montgomery is the lone exception: A park has been named after him and a local festival is held in his honor.
Exceptionally gifted jazz artists like Hubbard and Johnson have brought honor to the city through their accomplishments. They should receive some form of permanent public recognition in Indianapolis. That their recorded music is still admired and played worldwide is testimony enough to their stature in the world of jazz and American arts.
David "Fathead" Newman
Tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman died Jan. 21, 2009, of pancreatic cancer. Newman was a first-rate tenor saxophonist and flutist who came into prominence as a member of the Ray Charles band in the '50s and '60s. He was an outstanding jazz, soul jazz and blues player noted for his crisp, mellow tone.