Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, whose virtuosity earned him jazz royalty status in the 1960s and whose commercial recordings in the ’70s made him a fusion star, died Monday at the age of 70.
He died in Sherman Oaks, where he lived. Complications of a heart attack he suffered on Nov. 26 was listed as the cause.
Like many young players, Hubbard got his start as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, which led to him performing on the records of other young stalwarts, among them Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
In the early 1960s, the post-bebop world was wide open and Hubbard was one of the few musicians to take full advantage of the music’s spectrum. He played hard bop with Blakey, in the “controlled freedom” style of Hancock and with the avant garde performers as well, appearing on the legendary recordings Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” (1960), Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” (1964) and John Coltrane’s “Ascension” (1965).
As a leader celebrated for his powerful style, he made more than 15 albums in the decade for Blue Note and Impulse!, but his commercial breakthrough came when he made the transition in 1970 to the CTI label. In the early 1970s, CTI was the first imprint to focus on music made by jazz musicians that incorporated elements of R&B, rock and soft funk, often augmented with rich orchestration, and utilized electric instruments. Songs were lengthy — often more than 12 minutes long — and regularly went the length of an album side.
Hubbard’s album “Red Clay” was released in 1970, hitting No. 14 on the jazz chart, and its title track became a standard in the jazz canon of the era. From that point forward, nearly every Hubbard album would hit the jazz top 40 even as his music continued to develop a pop bent.
While his contemporaries navigated acoustic and electric work, Hubbard stuck with the latter and became the genre’s premier trumpeter. He returned to the acoustic jazz of his youth in the 1980s, returning to Blue Note in 1985 and recording a series of straight-ahead albums.
At the same time, he assumed Blakey’s role in hiring young musicians for his bands, which would include the teenage bassist Christian McBride and pianist Bennie Green. That chapter came to close in 1992 when Hubbard hurt his lip by over blowing without the proper warmup. He was forced to stop performing at the time, and over the next 16 years, his appearances and recordings were sporadic. At some gigs his playing was limited to just a few blasts on the horn.
Born on April 7, 1938, in Indianapolis, he studied several instruments before settling on the trumpet. His first local paying jobs were with guitarist Wes Montgomery.
He moved to New York in 1958 and within three years he was signed to Blue Note and hired by Blakey, whose band he remained in until 1964. Critical acclaim followed nearly all his moves in the ’60s but once he “went electric,” critics turned their backs on him. Decades later, it’s evident his work on “Red Clay,” “Straight Life” and “First Light” were direct descendants of his late ’60s music and among his most artistically significant works. “First Light” received a Grammy in 1972.
This year and in 2001, Hubbard released albums with the New Jazz Composers Octet. He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.
Hubbard is survived by his wife, Briggie Hubbard, and son, Duane.