a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Story filed March 3, 1997
It was 1963. Drummer Art Blakey, the Pittsburgh native who had played his first professional gig in Cleveland with pianist Mary Lou Williams almost 25 years earlier, brought his Jazz Messengers, a group of outstanding young musicians, to Cleveland. Among the group playing at a popular jazz club at East 49th and Central were tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Cedar Walton, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.
Hubbard recalled, "We played at Leoís Casino. Iíll never forget that place. It was a place like, more like in the neighborhood. Most of the time, we played big concerts at big halls, but was right in the neighborhood. It was one of the best experiences Iíve had because the people who came to this club really liked the music and they wanted to hear some jazz. A lot of places you go, they want to hear really commercial music, but these people were really into the music -- jazz."
Hubbard and the other young members of the Jazz Messengers were all destined for jazz stardom when they first came to Leoís Casino in Cleveland with Art Blakey. "It was a great experience," said Hubbard, because all the members of the group were young and we were trying to write."
But Hubbard remembered more about playing at Leoís Casino than the appreciative crowds and the music. "We did a whole week. They had balloons in the ceiling. Curtis had a bar bill of $116. He must have bought a lot of people drinks. He couldnít have consumed that much in a week. A $116 bar bill!"
Hubbard also remembered another gig with Blakey in Cleveland, at a club in the University Circle area, at Euclid and Mayfield. "We played at the Jazz Temple and there was a bomb threat. For some reason or another, I donít think the people in the neighborhood wanted the club to be there. So they threatened to throw a bomb in the club that night."
But Blakey and the other members of the Jazz Messengers refused to be intimidated. Blakey had an idea to take everybodyís mind off the potential danger. "Art said, `I donít care what they do, weíre going to play anyway.í And Iíll never forget," recalled Hubbard, "there was a guy, a friend of Artís, who came in the club that night and danced on nails and walked through glass. He was on the stage while we were playing `Three Blind Mice.í"
At the time, the dedicated young jazz musicians performing in Cleveland with Blakey did not understand why they were suddenly doing what amounted to a vaudeville act in a Cleveland jazz club. "Art knew this guy;" said Hubbard, "and nobody else knew him. Cedar said, `Why are we playing with this guy, what is this? Weíre supposed to be playing jazz." He said, `This will take the peopleís mind off of the bomb threat, and it did."
Even the Cleveland police, who arrived at the Jazz Temple to investigate the bomb threat, stopped to watch the guy walking on glass while some of the best young jazz performers in the country played.
Hubbard, who later became one of the most prolific performers in jazz, spent a lot of time in Cleveland, playing at various clubs and appreciating the virtuosity of native Cleveland trumpeters, including Freddie Webster, who had played with Jimmie Lunceford and others in the 1940s. "He had that singing sound," said Hubbard. "You could hear him way in the back of the room without a mike. He wasnít real loud but he used to carry the sound."
Hubbard also admired another native Cleveland trumpeter, Benny Bailey. "Benny once picked up my trumpet," remembered Hubband, "and I had one of those mouthpieces with a hole in it for the speaker attachment. I lost the button and Benny held his finger over the hole and blew like it was never missing. I looked at him and said, `Man, heís playing!í You gotta have a lot of wind to do that even though you put your finger on the thing."
Hubbard also said he appreciated the Cleveland jazz audiences he has played for over the years and says they are generally more conservative than jazz audiences on the east and west coasts. "I think people here want to hear the real thing, they want to hear the hard, straight ahead bebopping and the jazz like the guys play like Coltrane, Byrd, Miles and myself. Theyíre true listeners. Some people just go with whatever is hot and is commercial and they tend to go with the trend. These people here in Cleveland, like what they like."
But for trumpeter Hubbard, who toured almost continually for more than 25 years and played with the best jazz performers around the world, his strongest memory of Cleveland is its people. "When you come to Cleveland, the people want to accept you into their homes and get to know you as a person. Most places, they just want to do business with you and and youíre gone. The people are nice people and they want to treat you to a nice meal and treat you like people. I think thatís needed more today."
We spoke with Hubbard while he was spending about a week in Cleveland, just quietly visiting with friends while recovering from an infected lip problem. He was delighted to be treated as a person -- not just a musical business commodity. He said, "Musicians travel, live in hotels and eat bad food. Thatís why most of them end up dying before their time. Thereís no home feeling, no home cooking, no real love for not just the music but the person who is doing it."
Jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was getting a home feeling, home cooking and some real love in one of his favorite places, Cleveland.
CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Jazzed in Cleveland"
Copyright 1997 Joe Mosbrook
You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available from some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries, and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-397-9900).