Friday, July 08, 2005

Freddie Hubbard and the UCLA Jazz Ensemble

Freddie Hubbard and the UCLA Jazz Ensemble, 1980 Posted by Picasa

I’ve only had the pleasure of playing with one major jazz artist in my career. (To be hopeful, I should add ‘so far.’) That artist was Freddie Hubbard.

The director of the UCLA Jazz Ensembles at that time was Gary Gray. He was able to work some magic and get the great trumpeter Freddie Hubbard as our guest soloist! To put this in perspective, Freddie was still in his early 40s and about at the peak of his popularity and technical prowess. This was a guy who had played with John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman (amongst many) and now he was playing with us!!

The night before the concert, we had our only dress rehearsal with Freddie. There were a few bumps and glitches, but we thought we had them nailed down by the time the evening was done. The concert itself took place on Wednesday, April 16th, 1980 at UCLA’s venerable Royce Hall. The second jazz ensemble opened the show and then the first ensemble played a short set of four numbers before Freddie joined us. He played 6 numbers with us and each one managed to show how nervous us young players were! The opening number, "Blues for NKWE" featured a very shaky introduction, but we recovered. After all, it’s pretty hard to mess up the blues! This number had my only solo of the evening – two choruses on the baritone sax. (In addition to baritone, I played tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute for the evening). A one chorus interlude followed my solo and then Freddie played 10 choruses. It was surreal to hear such great playing being done just 10 feet away from you!

Next followed his original composition (now a jazz standard) "Little Sunflower", "The Summer Knows", "The Love Connection" (it was originally scheduled to be last per the program, but it was switched to the penultimate spot). We finished with "The Intrepid Fox", a fast and tricky tune. After that, the audience wanted more, but we didn’t have anything else! So, we played "The Love Connection" again. Actually, it was good that we did since we messed it up pretty badly the first time we played it. (The band got lost during Freddie’s solo and he had to revert to the melody to show us where we should be.)

Some of the band members have gone on to great careers in music. Trombonist Alex Iles keeps busy playing with groups like Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, in addition to teaching low brass at Cal Arts. Drummer Washington Rucker in active in the scene by not only leading his own groups, but also acting and teaching.

Because of my class schedule, I changed to the number two jazz band for my senior year, playing lead alto sax. During my last quarter, the second alto was a guy named Dave Koz. I wonder what happened to him?

1 comment:

Rick said...

Playing with/behind Freddie Hubbard would be an absolute dream come true for me. Heck, it would be a dream come true just to hear him play live.

I laughed a bit at your Dave Koz mention. In college I played in a funk band with Brian Culbertson...

Thanks for sharing the experience!