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Bittersweet Return

Sweet Return

Thelonious Monk’s composition “Rhythm-A-Ning” begins innocently enough with a sing-songy melody that could have come from a schoolyard. But Monk is Monk, and he finishes it off with a bratty, chromatic phrase that ends on three repeated staccato notes phrased like a jab to the chest.

The trumpeter Freddie Hubbard opened his set with that tune when he played my hometown in 1984 and those three notes arrived with such force that my head snapped back and hit the wall behind me.

Hubbard, who passed yesterday at age 70, played the trumpet the way the Big Ten plays basketball, with as much muscle as finesse. There was always an animal force to Hubbard’s playing, and when he was in his prime, his virtuosity and fluency was almost defiant. And very joyous for just that reason.

Of course Miles Davis was a genius, and, sure, Dizzy Gillespie deserves as much credit for inventing the modern era in jazz as the more colorful, more cinematically doomed saxophonist Charlie Parker. But it’s a trumpet, dammit, and it came into jazz played high, loud and fast. So, that’s the way I like to hear it — the way Freddie Hubbard played in his prime.

Hubbard, for one of his many comebacks, recorded a album entitled “Sweet Return” a pretty good mainstream date that aimed to steal the fire that passed to the Marsalises, Blanchards and Hargroves of the world while Freddie was off making money in fusion music. I thought about that record as I sat to write this, my first post to this long-neglected blog in quite some time.

Comeback? Not exactly, but I’ve resolved this New Year’s Eve to pay a great deal more attention to “let’s call this” than I did when I was off not making money in various ways. Still, it’s a sweet return, even when the news is bring is bitter. Here’s that rainy day.

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