The Jazzcat

Freddie Hubbard 70th Birthday at Catalina Bar and Grill

by on May.03, 2008, under News


No this is not New York City,

but it is Thursday night, and Catalina’s Bar and Grill is stacked up with a

cast of Los Angeles

jazz stars! Don Heckman, Ndugu Chancelor, the great John Levy not to mention

the excellent line-up of players tonight. Everyone loves Freddie and they all

came out to support the man who took the trumpet to the apex of the music.

Georges Cables, Slide Hampton, Dwayne Burno, James Spalding, David Weiss, and

Roy McCurdy are all here to celebrate 50 years of music and 70 years of life

from a man who put his indelible stamp on the music. Yes it is true that

Freddie hasn’t played live much in the last 20 years but it seems like every

decade, he likes to come out and party for his birthday.


Freddie was a man at the top of his game, kicking everyone’s

ass on the trumpet. Miles was always the major headliner but, two clicks down,

the battle of the horns was between Freddie and Lee. Freddie was just as sharp

as he was back in the sixties when he was blowin’ em’ down like the big bad

wolf. He has still got the wolf but this time houses are not falling as easy.


High notes on the trumpet are a fother mucker man and one night

way back when in a cutting session Freddie was piercing the heavens until he

blew out his lip and the accident cost him and the rest of us dearly.


What is a player to do, Freddie had gigs lined up and you

know musicians have to get it while the getting’ is good! Except the lip got

infected and after surgery, lips never heal the same and what it was, is not

what it is or what it will be.
 imageimageimage imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Freddie has recorded so many albums and created so many

impeccable standards and that notoriety has spanned his career and will be her

until eternity. I have been reading some reviews lately about Freddie’s

performances and they have not been kind. Everybody knows the deal and the

perspective has to be taken into consideration. We all know Mingus popped

Jimmy, we all know what happened to Miles outside of Birdland, we all know

Charlie had a little problem but, do we need to focus on that? I know that America likes

to build its stars up and then shoot them out of the sky. At one time, those

stars shined brightly and provided us with many nights of wonderful pleasure so

always remember to never forget!


The band starts out burning on the first tune as Freddie

waits to make his entrance on the next tune. Spalding is on it and George,

after having a few health problems feels, sounds, and is looking wonderful.

Slide does not age and master of the bone is and always will be an appropriate

title for him. Craig Handy is looking serious and you can see his brain dancing

with the melody as he rides on the tip of solid sound.


The next solo belongs to David Weiss who will probably be

doing most of the hitting on the trumpet tonight. Dwayne Burno and Roy McCurdy

in the rhythm help keep it at a fiery pace. Freddie comes out and is up to bat

and you can tell by the look of the faces after a few notes that this is a

performance supported by love and no matter what happens, we are all here to

honor a jazz giant. It wasn’t working that well for Freddie in the beginning,

but what did that matter; we all know what we are here for. In the following

nights at the performance, I saw and heard the sound and ideas in better form.

The brotha himself said he just needs a minute to warm up. We can respect that

and respect is the most powerful gift of all.


Freddie wonders why the audience is so quiet. Everyone is

thinking and carefully examining the music, the man, the vibe, and what will

happen next. When I was a kid there was a cartoon called “Courageous Cat” and

tonight this particular character comes to mind. This is Freddie’s beautiful

creation and although he can’t hit it like the days of thunder, I am happy to

see him on stage as a part of the music. This is a team effort and a team

spirit that exists and just like in the army, no one gets left behind.


George, my goodness, so wonderfully fluid is spreading the

sunshine on all of the “Little Sunflowers”. Even Freddie said that his boys

have got his back. Freddie has worked with David Weiss’ new jazz octet back in New York for over a

decade. They have a great association with the music. When Freddie starts to

play, David always come over to adjust Freddie’s microphone to give him the

best possible sound; a sign of respect for his elder statesman and support for

a man that introduced so many a young musician to the music.


“Blue Spirits”, one of my personal favorites, was a tune

written for Freddie’s first wife who he says he can’t be too mad at because she

gave him a beautiful son.  James Spalding

was just impeccable on the flute and there is so much love and dance in this

song. Dwayne did a wonderful arrangement of Freddie’s, “Skydive”. The main girl

of the hour these days and for many years is Briggy, who was right there on

hand to support her man.


Everyone in the audience has a different look on their faces

but I’m all smiles because I remember how all of this beauty helped me shaped

the sound of my radio programs back at 88.1 at KKJZ. The spirits blew in

otherwise provided an energy and power that got me from midnight to 6am with no

problem. Anyway you look at it, this is history and you may not get another

chance to see Freddie put a trumpet to his lips.  With the extremely alarming rate of jazz

heroes ascending in to jazz heaven, I am happy to be here. I never saw Monk,

Blakey, Nina, Betty, Horace, Dolphy, Mingus, Lee and a whole slew of other bad

ass cats so I am honored for the experience. Maybe these days with Freddie you

can’t hear it, but you can feel it and we live for the feeling!


I saw Freddie on the break and got a chance to say hello. He

asked me to introduce him for the second set. I wasn’t too sure how serious he

was and when the time came I did not take the cue and Freddie went up on stage

without me. The first thing he said was “Where is that cat who was supposed to

introduce me, LeRoy Downs?” Whoops, my bad. Okay, so I blew it, but next time I

will make the shot.  I shrank from 6’3”

to 2 inches tall in just a few seconds but, I came back for the next two nights

as his host and did a fantastic job!


“Ebony Moonbeams” was a tune that Freddie and George

recorded together a few years back. He asked the front line to excuse itself

while he and the trio did their thing. As the nights progressed, Freddie was

holding his own. He was still not in the form of days of old but, his

composure, the ideas and completion of runs and riffs  proved that he still had it and wanted to share

and celebrate!.


Freddie and his son Dwayne were walking down Sunset Blvd back

in the 60’s during the spring and Dwayne started skipping and the next thing you

know, “Up Jumped Spring”, just another one of the fine compositions that have

literally turned into gold for Freddie. Those along with the famous “Red Clay”

have turned out to be pretty lucrative.


This series of concerts ends a West Coast three city tour

for Freddie and his burners. I know that Freddie did not write “Freddie

Freeloader” nor was the song written for him but, on the last set of the last

evening, I lead the entire audience in a few choruses as we sang and Freddie

approached the stage from the dressing room. Seventy years old, a legend and

master of the trumpet; much love and respect for the great Freddie Hubbard!


LeRoy Downs



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