freddie hubbard, 1938-2008

jazz trumpeter freddie hubbard

jazz trumpeter freddie hubbard

The news yesterday afternoon on NPR was more of the dreary same. But after updates on the airstrikes in Gaza and the newest winter storm set to slam the Northwest, a bit of bop came over the airwaves. Of all the times you hope to hear jazz on the radio, this was not one of them.

The music was a lead-in to the announcement of Freddie Hubbard’s death at age 70. The acclaimed trumpet player had suffered a heart attack.

Hubbard was a giant in his day – equaled in terms of tone and temperament, perhaps, only by the great Lee Morgan. A veteran of the golden age of Blue Note Records during the ‘60s, Hubbard, like so many of contemporaries, collaborated with legends (specifically, John Coltrane on 1961’s The Africa/Brass Sessions and 1965’s groundbreaking Ascension), flirted with fusion (on a series of underrated CTI albums) and, for a time, gave in completely to pop.

For much of the past decade-and-a-half, he has been out of the spotlight fighting various illnesses and a career-threatening lip infection. However, Hubbard returned last summer with a well-received studio outing aided by the New Jazz Composers Octet called On the Real Side. The flourishes and flash that peppered his early playing were gone. Hubbard had also switched from trumpet exclusively to flugelhorn. Still, his tone remained vibrant.

Hubbard’s Blue Note recordings exemplify the label’s boppish command, especially Here to Stay (recorded 46 years ago this week) and Ready for Freddie (cut a month earlier, in November 1962). While 1965’s The Night of the Cookers was a seering live set that placed him alongside Morgan, the ’62 albums presented the tenor sax giant Wayne Shorter as Hubbard’s primary foil.

That relationship reached a zenith in the late ‘70s. Hubbard was recording slick, orchestrated and largely forgettable pop albums at the time. But he moonlighted in an all-star band called VSOP that featured all of Miles Davis’ classic mid ‘60s quintet: Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Everyone that is, except Davis himself. The trumpet seat now belonged to Hubbard.

VSOP, though, tackled an entirely different repertoire than what Davis designed for the group. Comparisons were unavoidable. But for the record, figuratively and literally, Hubbard was as volatile a trumpeter as Davis was cool.

The best surviving recorded statement from VSOP is a two-disc set of 1979 concert performances issued in 2004 under the title Live Under the Sky.

For all the boppish glory of the Blue Note recordings, which far and away remain Hubbard’s best work, and the celebrity summits of VSOP, the Hubbard albums that hit me the hardest came in the early ‘70s – a time when artists like Hancock, Shorter and Williams were experimenting with primitive fusion.

Of those records, all cut for the CTI label, 1970’s Red Clay was the most heralded. It’s beaut, to be sure, with Hancock on electric piano, a 20 year old Lenny White on drums and sax great Joe Henderson. It’s also the only jazz record I know of that dared take an instrumental stab at John Lennon’s karmic nightmare, Cold Turkey.

But my favorite remains Straight Life. Cut 10 months after Red Clay, it sports two extended jams that echo funk, fusion and urban urgency. Yet the album concludes with a lovely take of Here Comes That Rainy Day, a subdued but brief serenade with a young George Benson providing the merest sketch of a backdrop on guitar.

Admittedly, it took the news of Hubbard’s passing to bring those recordings back to mind. But a listen again last night to Straight Life for the first time in many years only brought smiles. Sure, the groove was wicked. But this was the music of a titan with an intuitive edge that deserves to he heard for generations to come.

The Negotiations Trap

The Washington Post December 7, 1990 | Charles Krauthammer President Bush’s dramatic negotiating overture to Saddam Hussein was intended, no doubt, to disarm Congress. Congress, following Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), was in the process of disarming Bush by scuttling his military option until well into the presidential year 1992. The Bush maneuver calmed Congress for a full 72 hours – until the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened its Gulf hearings with a parade of antiwar witnesses, a display of antiwar speeches by committee Democrats and a pummeling of Secretary of State James Baker for not giving peace – pardon me, sanctions – a chance.

Baker, who is supposed to impress Saddam with American resolve next month in Baghdad, limped away wounded. Saddam, who watches a lot of CNN, was apparently satisfied. He praised the U.S. Congress, which, he surmised, “feels deeply its responsibility” for “not rushing into war.” (Quotes courtesy of the Iraqi New Agency).

Bush’s negotiation maneuver did not just misfire domestically. It will backfire internationally. Bush may honestly believe that he is not entering into negotiations but simply “discussions” and that he is sending Baker simply to deliver Saddam a message. But a president with Bush’s long experience in foreign affairs must know that once a negotiation begins, it acquires a dynamic of its own. go to site art of war quotes

Saddam doesn’t need much to come out a victor. He need only come out intact and in power with something to show, some reward for his aggression. He has many cards to play for his little rewards.

He played his first card swiftly and brilliantly. Yesterday he agreed to free the hostages. That will bring him favorable PR, weeks of media distraction (the story is hostage joy rather than Kuwaiti agony) and an even more pliable U.S. negotiating partner. The hostage release, judged Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), father of the mission-to-Baghdad idea, will create a “positive atmosphere” and “accelerate” U.S.-Iraqi negotiations.

Other cards? At some point, Saddam might offer pieces of (what is left of) Kuwait. On Tuesday, a British report had Saddam offering to leave most of Kuwait in return for the Rumaila oil field and a “lease” on Kuwait’s Bubiyan island. (How would you like to be Saddam’s landlord when the lease runs out?) The report, although denied, is plausible. Saddam covets the oil and control of the island that commands Kuwait City would give him effective military control of the country. If he allows the royal family to return, they return as his clients. Moreover, this kind of offer completely diffuses the military threat. In 1939, no one was prepared to die for Danzig. Anyone prepared to die for Bubiyan?

Saddam has Palestinian cards to play. And even a democracy card. What if he insists on – and makes peace hinge on his demand for – “free elections” for the benighted feudalism of Kuwait? Having depopulated Kuwait and colonized it with Iraqis and Palestinians, Saddam could not lose such an election. (Saddam is the first political thug to have taken seriously Bertolt Brecht’s mordant suggestion that when the people lose trust in the government, the solution is not to change the government but for government to change the people.) Bush could explain to Americans that such “elections” are a ruse for Saddam’s de facto annexation of Kuwait. Still, could Bush mobilize America to fight in order to prevent “democracy” from coming to Kuwait? web site art of war quotes

Baker may intend his trip for delivery of an ultimatum. But Saddam has shown himself to be a resourceful and duplicitous negotiator. (Mubarak and the Saudis really believed his promises on the eve of the invasion not to invade.) He has already shown his skills in preliminary jockeying over the shape of the table. The Arabs who have gone out on a limb with the United States are quite nervous that Bush might cut a deal with Saddam behind their backs. Bush therefore proposed that the Washington talks include America’s allies.

Saddam countered by saying that, in this case, he would have Baker in Baghdad meet not just with him but with his allies too, namely Yasser Arafat. The United States quickly agreed to one-on-one in both venues.

Outflanked from the start, America’s Arab allies are rightly afraid that Baker might return from Baghdad clutching a piece of paper and promising peace for a time. Watch for them to begin their own back-channel negotiations with Baghdad. Yesterday only has-beens and outcasts like Ramsey Clark and Kurt Waldheim went to Baghdad. Today France and the European Community are offering high-level meetings with Iraq now that the United States has broken the taboo. The bazaar is open.

Saddam has already won at another level too, a level that counts for much in the Arab world: prestige. If Bush wanted to negotiate, why not simply in Washington with Foreign Minister Aziz? Sending Baker to Baghdad shows that one can imprison 1,000 Americans for four months and be treated not as an outlaw but as an equal.

Before Nov. 30, the president was bent on war. Congress was bent on waiting. Then the president held out a tantalizing third option: a deal. He may say he does not want one. But Congress will seize on the idea. And Saddam will certainly labor to produce one. Because if he does, he wins. Any concession, anything short of unconditional withdrawal, is victory for him. And like Hitler after the Rhineland, if he wins, he’ll be back.

Charles Krauthammer



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