Freddie again plays flugelhorn exclusively throughout On The Real Side, as he did on New Colors. And while the dazzling speed, stunning high note facility and uncanny endurance may be diminished, the phrasing is still quintessentially Hubbard. "I can't expect myself to play like I was when I was 30," he says. "Sometimes I want to bash it, play hard, but you can't do it. I have come to the realization as to what I can do now...play a couple of choruses and get out."
At the peak of his powers, no trumpeter on the planet played longer, higher, and faster than Freddie Hubbard, and no one exuded as much confidence and swagger on the bandstand as he did on a nightly basis. The list of sessions that he played on during a golden period of jazz from 1960 to 1965 contains several classic recordings: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messenger's Free For All, Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, Eric Dolphy's Out To Lunch, Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth, John Coltrane's Ascension, Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage and Empyrean Isles, Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil, Max Roach's Drums Unlimited. Add to this prodigious output Hubbard's playing on a string of important Blue Note recordings by the likes of Hank Mobley, Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, Tina Brooks, Duke Pearson, Sam Rivers, Bobby Hutcherson and Andrew Hill, along with his own impressive dates as a leader for Blue Note and Atlantic in the '60s and CTI in the '70s, and it's easy to see why Hubbard is regarded today as part of trumpet royalty.
Decades of Herculean trumpet work have taken their toll on Freddie's chops. In late 1992 his top lip popped and later became infected. A biopsy was taken and cancer was ruled out, but Hubbard was left with upper lip tissue so sore he was unable to play with the same slashing attack and killer abandon he was famous for. "It's really something when you lose your chops like that," says Hubbard. "You feel like a motherless child. You can't do it like you used to. But now I'm at that age when I have to think more about what I'm going play instead of just running all over the horn. You gotta play with your soul instead of your chops."
Hubbard admits there was a time period during the '90s when he was so frustrated that he was ready to give it all up, content to never play trumpet again and just live off his royalties. But he was coaxed back onto the scene by The New Jazz Composer Octet's trumpeter and arranger David Weiss, who gave the jazz elder a new lease on life. "David saved me, man," says Hubbard. "He really encouraged me to play again. I wanted to give up but David told me, 'There ain't nobody left from your era except you. So you must be here for some reason.' So the cat inspires me to go ahead and do something. He's arranging my music, keeping me alive out here. And he also got me to warm up the horn with long tones before playing it. Back in the day, I used to just pick up it up and start blowing like crazy. But I've learned that the trumpet is like a car in the winter. You can't just jump in it and drive off. You gotta warm it up first."
Hubbard adds that he's been very encouraged by the response from audiences at his recent gigs with The New Jazz Composers Octet. "People have been showing me a lot of love since I've been back. That makes you want to keep going." Along with hip and ongoing lip problems, Hubbard has also suffered a series of physical setbacks over the years. He's recently had surgery for a pinched nerve in his neck, had a non-cancerous growth taken out of his lung and a few years back suffered congestive heart failure. But he's a survivor. And with The New Jazz Composers Octet in his corner, he's determined to carry on playing. On The Real Side represents another step on the comeback trail for the jazz trumpet great.
FREDDIE HUBBARD | On The Real Side | Times Square Records | June 24, 2008