Long before I met, and subsequently worked with, Freddie; I had heard him on records and read about him in jazz magazines. The first time I saw him live was when he was with one of J.J. Johnson’s sextets in the early 60’s. Hearing guys on record is one thing; but, being at a table near the bandstand or in the first couple of rows at a concert, is a whole different ballgame. I First heard J.J. live at a concert (1961 with Miles’ sextet–Howard Theater in D.C) and Freddie at a club (Slug’s) in NYC. I did this while I was stationed at the Naval School of Music with the Army Element. Many weekends found me in D.C., Baltimore, Philly or even NYC, catching the cats I had heard about but never caught them live. Anyway, back to Freddie.
I can’t actually remember the first time I met Freddie in person. I do remember it was in LA, after he moved out there from the east coast [mid-seventies]. A lot of the guys I hung out and played with found themselves in some of the bands Freddie had with west coast players–Henry Franklin, Carl Randall, Buck Clarke, Carl Burnett and a few others. Anyway, Freddie had gigs at the Roxy and the Troubadour to showcase his, then, new LP on Columbia called “High Energy”– https://www.discogs.com/Freddie-Hubbard-High-Energy/release/1599528 . He wanted to use most of the players from the session on the gig; but, one of the guys– George Bohanon, I think– couldn’t make it. So, I got the call: When Freddie called, it was like: “Is this Al Hall?”……;(me) “this is he”…….; “This is Freddie Hubbard ….., I got a gig coming up and I need a trombone player, your name kept coming up, so the gig is yours if you can make it”;….. (me) “I can make it”……….; [but] I haven’t given you the dates yet”……..; (me) “ I can make it!”…….. So, as I recall now–it was at the rehearsal for that gig when I met Freddie for the first time. formally. As I remember, the rehearsal was at one of those big rooms at Studio Instrument Rentals[SIR] on Santa Monica Bl. up in Hollywood.
After finding time to chat with Freddie one on one and after he had been checking out how I was playing his charts and arrangements, he said: “I’m gonna use you from now on when I need a ‘bone player.” I mentioned seeing him with J.J. years before. He recalled those days and that band; reminding me that he and J.J. were home boys from Naptown. He told me how J.J. was all business. He laughed and mimicked how J.J. introduced him: “On trumpet, Frederick Hubbard!” From the very beginning Freddie was fun to be around; but, he was complicated and moody at times too, to say the least.
After I got to know him, I noticed that Freddie didn’t call many of the cats by their first names; it was either the surname, full name or quasi African name. It was: Cables, Randall, Franklin, Clarke and, yes Hall. Sometimes he might say the complete name and rarely the first; Fundi was Fundi. When he talked about other trumpet players; he did use Miles, he referred to Woody Shaw’s whole name. It was Clifford and Lee, Pops, Cootie, etc. When it came to fellow trumpeters, he used more first names and nicknames than ever. He never called me Sanifu or Al Hall,Jr.– it was either Hall or Al Hall. Depending on the mood or situation I greeted him loosely, most of the time: Hub, Hubbard, Hubtones, Hubcaps; I rarely , if ever, addressed him as Freddie. When I talked of him to others, I’d say Freddie, as did most of those who talked of him to, or around, me. Once in awhile he would say something with such probity; I would say: Hubbard! or Frederick!
After I met Freddie and we became friends, he would often invite me to his place up in the Hollywood Hills. It was at the front of a cul-de-sac off of Mulholland Drive, with a great view of the valley below. Most of the time we just hung out together. A few times some other cats, like Buck Clarke would drop by too. Sometimes he would drive us to one of the clubs in the valley–Donte’s or The Baked Potato, mainly. When we walked into them; of course, Freddie garnered lots of attention. It was nice being in that company. Along with the current performers, there were always other musicians kicking it about. The most memorable being Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae; it was the first time I’d met either of them–He introduced me to both.
We did talk a lot of music at times; but we also played pool–he was pretty good, went swimming in his pool, sipped cognac, toked and did a few lines too. I enjoyed those days. Occasionally, his wife–Briggie– would peek in to say hello. We never got into any personal stuff, for the most part. On the music side we sat at his piano and talked chords and voicing; a couple of times he had me bring my horn with me. He, at times, amazed me by suddenly picking up his axe and running cascades of scales and licks in all registers with great agility and little effort. You’ve heard him, you know what I’m talking about.
Although I wasn’t a core member of Hub’s traveling groups, I made many gigs with them. We played The Roxy, The Ash Grove, The Lighthouse, etc. and a few hits up in the Bay Area also. I never went east with them. I had projects with others and studio work on the west coast that paid more, so I remained close to those sources.
I did two sessions with Freddie: Liquid Love –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_Love_(Freddie_Hubbard_album)– and Splash–https://www.discogs.com/Freddie-Hubbard-Splash/release/663602 & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splash_(Freddie_Hubbard_album) ; the latter was a co-production with him that I set up with Fantasy Records. Freddie produced Liquid Love for Columbia(CBS). Both were, in fact, amazing dates. I think we did it–Liquid Love– in two days in Hollywood (Wally Hieder). Freddie and George Cables did the charts. Excellent personnel on both sessions; and the early use of the synthesizers on each. The Splash LP was an attempt to do something ‘outside the box’. More of what was termed ‘commercial’ in that day. It had elements of what was later called; acid jazz, smooth jazz, etc. Those Splash sessions were over a period of several weeks and were done in LA (Hit City West) and Berkeley (Fantasy)
I did a big band collaboration–The Intrepid Fox. Freddie was doing a lot of dates as a guest soloist with college bands and big bands overseas. So, he wanted to have some of his own charts, instead of playing things from their books. But, our big collab was the Splash LP. We were successful in a way. Because, we were in new and different territory for Freddie, we had to make choices. We had twice the amount of material, to choose from, than what was actually released. Our plan was to do, at least, one follow-up LP. That never happened for a number of reasons, some of which were issues with the label. Some critics were not kind to the project. They didn’t understand that Freddie was not trying to change his direction or his style of playing. It was simply making a different move, trying to reach a different set of ears and followers. As a matter of fact, the critics were not generally impressed with Liquid Love neither. However, the music, and those LPs, has withstood the test of time. I remember Freddie telling me: “Hall,…let’s do some funk! …and, stuff different from what I usually do.” I compiled tunes and songs while Freddie was away on a tour of Europe. When he returned, he selected what he wanted to do on Splash and we saved the others and were planning to pick a few more for a followup project. Once he decided on the tunes, he left the arranging mostly up to me–but, of course, I would run my progress by him as I went. The personnel on the Splash project was unique as were some of the tracks. The most important thing is that, Freddie Hubbard was satisfied. He jokingly said it gave him a break from playing ‘Frankenstein Music’ –it was an inside joke that we had about him having been playing so much stuff with big bands and orchestras both live and on record; he said, it begin to sound like the old black and white horror movie scores to him. He also noted that it was a needed change of pace from the hard hitting straight ahead stuff his small group played most of the time. On Splash, he wanted to be loose!
There were so many other little and large things along the way that happened that I’ve lost to time, but this gives you some insight into my association with Freddie. It is known that Freddie had a temper and had ‘his ways’. I remember him getting into a fist fight at a big hotel in Century City because he thought the bass player had ‘fucked up the gig’. It was his showcase for his debut Columbia Records album. He wanted one thing more than anything else when he was playing– energy! Whether it was a ballad or uptempo. He played with fire and that fire had to be matched. I remember doing a gig with a band he put together for something Kareem Abdul-Jabbar–they were close friends–was doing. Not only did I get a chance to meet the ‘big man’, but, Milt Jackson was also added to the band for that date. Freddie attracted folk. At some point we drifted apart, but stayed in touch. As a matter of fact, we played on the same bill at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival (1984); I co-led a local band and he was with a college band as a soloist. After that I saw and spoke with him only one more time. I was spending almost all of my time in Jacksonville and he was one of the headliners on a Jazz Legends concert, along with the likes of Jimmy Smith. I had ventured into other areas by then and had a regionally syndicated radio music program. I asked him and Jimmy to do an interview with me. Jimmy showed, but really wasn’t into the interview–his mind was on other things. Freddie seemed uninterested and never showed. I chatted with him briefly, after the show. The subject of the interview never came up. I will say this: Some of the best times of my musical life were spent working with Freddie Hubbard.
(photos: Freddie Hubbard, Sanifu Hall and Cynthia Faulkner[co-writer of You’re Gonna Lose Me] at Hit City West; Splash liner notes and Down Beat ad for Liquid Love)
You’re Gonna Lose Me from the LP Splash:
Kuntu from the LP Liquid Love: