A somewhat different Jazz Messengers here from a mid-60s concert. Freddie Hubbard’s composition, “Crisis” featuring the composer on trumpet, Jaki Byard on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, Nathan Davis on tenor saxophone and Art Blakey on drums. This is the only known documentation of this configuration.
Freddie Hubbard, (Frederick Dewayne Hubbard), American jazz musician (born April 7, 1938, Indianapolis, Ind.—died Dec. 29, 2008, Sherman Oaks, Calif.), played bravura trumpet solos with a harmonic-rhythmic flair that made him the most exciting late-bop virtuoso on his instrument. Early in his career, while influenced by bop-era trumpeters (including Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan), Hubbard developed a big, commanding tone and a subtle style of inventing melodies that flowed and, alternately, burst into dramatic contrasts. A prolific and daring recording artist, he not only was a major hard-bop figure but also played free jazz with Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Eric Dolphy and modal jazz with Wayne Shorter. After performing (1961–64) in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Hubbard led combos, including 1970s jazz-rock fusion groups that recorded the popular albumsRed Clay and First Light (Grammy Award, 1972). He also played (1976–79) with Shorter and Herbie Hancock in the all-star quintet V.S.O.P. and on sound tracks for films, including Blowup. Years of intense trumpeting led to a lip infection in 1992 that severely curtailed Hubbard’s career. In later years he played the less-demanding flugelhorn, rather than the trumpet, accompanied by the New Jazz Composers Octet.
In the ’60s, when John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman were defining the concept of a jazz avant-garde, few knowledgeable observers would have guessed that in another 30 years the music’s mainstream would virtually bypass their innovations, in favor of the hard bop style that free jazz had apparently supplanted. As it turned out, many listeners who had come to love jazz as a sophisticated manifestation of popular music were unable to accept the extreme esotericism of the avant-garde; their tastes were rooted in the core elements of “swing” and “blues,” characteristics found in abundance in the music of the Jazz Messengers, the quintessential hard bop ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, when artists on the cutting edge were attempting to transform the music, Blakey continued to play in more or less the same bag he had since the ’40s, when his cohorts included the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Fats Navarro. By the ’80s, the evolving mainstream consensus had reached a point of overwhelming approval in regard to hard bop: this is what jazz is, and Art Blakey — as its longest-lived and most eloquent exponent — was its master.
The Jazz Messengers had always been an incubator for young talent. A list of the band’s alumni is a who’s who of straight-ahead jazz from the ’50s on — Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Griffin, Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, Joanne Brackeen, Billy Harper, Valery Ponomarev, Bill Pierce, Branford Marsalis, James Williams, Keith Jarrett, and Chuck Mangione, to name several of the most well-known. In the ’80s, precocious graduates of Blakey’s School for Swing would continue to number among jazz’s movers and shakers, foremost among them being trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis became the most visible symbol of the ’80s jazz mainstream; through him, Blakey’s conservative ideals came to dominate the public’s perception of the music. At the time of his death in 1990, the Messenger aesthetic dominated jazz, and Blakey himself had arguably become the most influential jazz musician of the past 20 years.