At 48, Freddie Hubbard, whose quintet will be one of the main attractions tonight at the Queen Mary Jazz Festival, is riding high.
"The music scene has been good to me lately," says Hubbard.
Earlier this year he took part in Jazz Yatra, the annual festival in Bombay and New Delhi; lately he has toured the U.S. with a show called Jazz Explosion. He has six weeks in Europe lined up, starting next month, followed by a Japanese visit. Best of all, for the first time since 1980, he is under contract to a record company, Blue Note. His video, produced during his "Ride Like the Wind" recording, is doing well. This fall he will be seen in "Round Midnight," the French film starring Dexter Gordon.
"They were really hungry for our music in India," he says. "Max Roach was there; Larry Coryell was there. I played a session with Coryell and Subramaniam, the violinist from India who lives in Los Angeles. I knew about Indian music--back in New York, when I was living with (saxophonist) Eric Dolphy, he was friends with Ravi Shankar and played that music all day.
"Our accommodations were fabulous, but it wasn't exactly inspiring to see so much poverty and disease all around us. Also, my wife Brigitte and I both got sick, from the food, and we were glad to get out of there.
"I just finished this 'Jazz Explosion' tour, which really wasn't jazz--they had people like Angela Bofill, Gato Barbieri, Noel Pointer. The audience was mostly their fans, so it was good--a different kind of exposure for me. I played my own tunes like 'Skydive' and these cats tried to put a rock 'n' roll beat on it. It was kind of funny, but the money was great."
Hubbard's career has been marked by intermittent ventures of this kind in which he plays to the commercial market, then tires of it and returns to straight-ahead jazz. This time his reasons were purely personal. His wife was in a serious accident two years ago, from which she is still recovering. "She's such a part of my life, and sometimes you have to make sacrifices. That accident cost a lot of money, man, and I'm in tax trouble."
For the same reason, he expects to leave, despite serious misgivings, on a six-week tour of Europe with McCoy Tyner's trio and saxophonist Joe Henderson. "This could be the best tour I've ever done, but I still have to check it out and see which cities we're playing and which airports are least dangerous. I'm scared to death. We have 30 one-nighters, then we sit down for a while at the Nice Festival in July. This is a very crucial time, and I don't want to be on the right plane with the wrong diplomat."
Always a dependable artist when the circumstances are right, Hubbard is at his best when he meets a challenge.
"Wynton Marsalis sat in with me one night in New York," says Hubbard, "and I gave him a lesson--a trumpet lesson!" This remark was not in animosity, but half in jest; yet Hubbard is indeed a mature artist from whom most younger men could learn. As he added: "It was as if I were to sit in with Dizzy Gillespie. Wynton is a talented young boy, and all the publicity he's had has helped jazz. His chops were really up that night, too, but the swing isn't quite there yet."
In his first Blue Note release, "Double Take," Hubbard has a summit meeting with fellow trumpeter Woody Shaw. "Woody and I had a tough time reading that tune, 'Boperation,' " he says of the dazzling, fast-moving composition that's getting most of the current air play. "But you do your best when you're playing what you want to play, and we had a ball getting that album together.
"Being with Blue Note, now that it's an active, major company again, is going to help me. When you're free-lancing around, as I was after leaving Columbia in 1980, it hurts you, because no company's going to promote you if you just make one record and split."
It is through Blue Note that his next Japanese tour is being set up. "It's going to be a genuine all-star affair: Woody Shaw, Cedar Walton, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Turrentine, Jackie McLean, Art Blakey with a special group of his Jazz Messengers. We're all meeting on Mt. Fuji for three days, outside Tokyo, and the whole thing will be shot for television.
"It's amazing--all these great things are happening for me around the world, and the one place I can't find a job for more than a single day at a time is back home in L.A."