Saturday Night Tunes: Ready for Freddie

As of last week, we’ve covered four seminal albums from the hard bop era that have one common thread running through them, but we haven’t talked about that thread. The albums are Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, and Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, and the common thread is that you can find Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet on each of them (hat-tip to Wikipedia for pointing this out to me).

Freddie Hubbard died in 2008 after a 50 year active career that ranks for longevity, impact, and artistry alongside the career of any jazz musician you care to name. The four albums I mentioned above are truly four of the finest jazz albums of the 1960s, and Hubbard’s own Ready for Freddie is a fifth. It was Hubbard’s fourth album as a leader on the Blue Note label, recorded and released in 1961. Alongside Hubbard on trumpet is two-thirds of John Coltrane’s regular rhythm section (McCoy Tyner on piano and Elvin Jones on drums), Art Davis on bass, Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone (who was Hubbard’s bandmate in the Jazz Messengers at this point), and Kiane Zawadi (billed here under his birth name, Bernard McKinney), who I’m pretty sure is the only professional jazz euphonium player in history. There were five tunes on the album, three of them written by Hubbard and one by Shorter, with one standard:

“Arietis” is written by Hubbard and named for the constellation Aries. It’s an uptempo number that makes great use of the three horns in the melody. For me the highlight is Zawadi’s solo, but that might be because it’s the first time I’d ever heard a euphonium playing jazz. It’s cool:

The standard here is “Weaver of Dreams,” written by Jack Elliot and Victor Young. It’s a nice ballad and a great showcase for Hubbard’s tone and range:

Shorter contributed “Marie Antoinette,” a relaxed swinging number that again gets a lot of mileage out of the full-sounding horn section in the melody:

“Birdlike” is exactly what it sounds like: a tribute to Charlie Parker. It’s the high point of the album for me. You can hear Parker’s phrasing in the melody and all the soloists really get into this one:

“Crisis” is another Hubbard composition that, per the liner notes, “came from Freddie’s desire to express in music some of the spiraling tension of all our lives under the growing shadow of the bomb.” I don’t get that myself, but I’m too young to have lived under the growing shadow of the bomb, so what do I know? It’s a great tune, constantly changing feel:


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