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Freddie Hubbard: Back to Brilliance

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Injury-hit trumpeter Freddie Hubbard returns with a new sound, finds Martin Gayford

“I've experienced a lot," reflects Freddie Hubbard, “and I'm very happy still to be alive and to appreciate this music." Indeed, he's been through the most extreme highs and lows a trumpeter can experience. No brass virtuoso in jazz has played with such swagger and dash, and it's hard to think of another performer who has appeared on as many celebrated recordings.

But in 1992, the worst thing possible, musically, happened to Hubbard: he lost his ability to play. One night in Philadelphia, he split his lip while warming up. Ignoring the problem, he carried on to play a week at a New York jazz club, then flew to Europe to perform with a big band. At that stage, he realised his lip was badly infected; the problem got so serious he ended up having a biopsy for cancer (at which point he started thinking maybe it was time to get a day job).

There was no malignancy, but he was left virtually unable to blow his horn. “I couldn't hit a note for a while back then," he recalls, “but now notes are starting to come." On a new recording with the New Jazz Composers Octet, On the Real Side, Hubbard makes a reappearance, but sounding very different: older (he is now 70), slower, deeper, more reflective, and playing flugelhorn, not trumpet.

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