Leading Detroit Jazz Wave Trombonist Curtis Fuller Dies at 86


Left to right, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, Curtis Fuller and bassist Reggie Workman, on stage at New York City Hall on February 22, 1985.

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Trombonist and composer Curtis Fuller, a central figure on his instrument since the 1950s and beloved mentor, passed away on May 8. He was 86 years old. His death was confirmed by his daughter, Mary Fuller, and by the Jazz Foundation of America.

“Its sound was massive, gripping and immediate, a waveform that was calibrated to overload the senses and saturate the magnetic tape that captured it,” says trombonist and composer Jacob Garchik. “In our age of obsession with harmony and mixed metrics, Curtis Fuller’s legacy reminds us of the importance of sound.”

Ryan Keberle, another current leading trombonist and educator, agrees. “Curtis Fuller’s genius can be heard in the warm, vibrant timbre of his trombone sound and rhythmic buoyancy, and his deeply oscillating sense of time.”

Fuller was born in Detroit on December 15, 1934 and has always remained exceptionally proud of his Motor City roots. His parents, originally from Jamaica, died when he was young – Fuller grew up in an orphanage, before starting music in high school, first playing the baritone horn and then switching to the trombone at the age of 16. two years in the military, and during this time played in bands with future luminaries such as bassist Paul Chambers and alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.

Returning home to Detroit in 1955, he began playing in a quintet led by reedman Yusef Lateef; this group traveled to New York in 1957 to record three albums, and it was there that Fuller’s impact began to broaden considerably. In his first nine months as a New Yorker, Fuller recorded eight times as a leader or co-leader and appeared as a sideman on 15 other recordings, including that of John Coltrane. Blue train (Blue Note), that the legendary saxophonist city as one of his favorites.

Fuller’s broad, broad sound added depth and breadth to the trumpet and saxophone frontline that had become the hard-bop convention. Yet, on his own recordings, Fuller has branched out in unique ways – one of his first recordings, Bones and Bari (Blue Note), featured a front line from saxophonist Fuller and baritone Tate Houston with a stellar rhythm section from pianist Sonny Clark, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor; the dark and evocative vibe of his forehead line underscored the broad sound of Fuller’s instrument.

It was an unprecedented influx of Motor City from the New York jazz scene. A short The list of influential musicians includes Chambers and Lateef, trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Barry Harris, guitarist Kenny Burrell, pianist Tommy Flanagan, drummer Louis Hayes, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, bassist Ron Carter, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and the Jones brothers – pianist Hank, trumpeter Thad and drummer Elvin. Fuller often recorded with these great musicians, but he also made canonical recordings with others. He was a member of the original Art Farmer / Benny Golson Jazztet, and he performed with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers for three and a half years. Ryan Keberle cited Fuller’s solo on the album’s “One for One” Ugetsu as one of his favorites.

“Fuller was deeply rooted in the fundamentals of blues, swing and bebop, and his improvisations convincingly balanced head and heart,” said Mark Stryker, author of Detroit Jazz. “He espoused a lickety-split technique with a moving expression, and even in his early twenties he had a distinctive identity perfectly suited to the mainstream of hard bop.”

Fuller spent much of the late ’60s through the late’ 80s touring with bands led by legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie, as well as the collective ensemble The Timeless All Stars. Like many of his peers, he joined the ranks of academia, teaching at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford and was on the faculty of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center, where he mentored musicians like the saxophonist. Caroline davis and bassist Dezron Douglas.

It was in Connecticut in the mid to late 1980s that trombonist and educator Steve Davis met Fuller and the two became friends. Davis traveled to New York often in the late 1980s to hear Fuller with the Jazztet or the band Timeless. “Curtis’ play was absolutely amazing… almost mystical,” Davis says. Curtis always said, ‘I’m not trying to win an Olympics Trombone.’ We all knew he could, but we loved him because it was never his concern to ‘outdo’ anyone. either. He was playing too pretty and trendy for that. He was all music. “

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