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Jazz Remembered


Freddie Webster


Freddie Webster

Freddie Webster
picture from Joe Mosbrook website page (see below)


"I used to love what he did with a note. He didn't play a lot of notes; he didn't waste any. I used to try to get his sound. He had a great big tone, like Billy Butterfield, but without a vibrato. Freddie was my best friend. I wanted to play like him. I used to teach him chords, everything I learned at Juilliard. He didn't have the money to go. And in return, I'd try to get his tone".

Miles Davis.


Trumpeter Freddie Webster was born in 1916 and died at the age of 30 in 1947. Officially, he died of a heart attack. Miles Davis thought otherwise ....

Freddie Webster was born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in a religious family. As a teenager he played in the Central High School band, but I wonder what his parents thought when he began to make a name for himself in the Cleveland jazz groups of the 1930s? By the end of the decade he had put together a 14-piece band to tour Northern Ohio. The band included his friend, pianist Tadd Dameron. Tadd claimed that it was Freddie who influenced his decision to pursue a career in jazz. It is interesting that Freddie's influence in his short life seems to have touched a number of people. Eventually Freddie left Cleveland and played with a variety of bands.

Listen to the Earl Hines band playing St. Louis Blues.




He toured with Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines’ big band and then, in 1941, he went to New York where he hung out with Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Benny Harris and others at Dizzy’s apartment or at the Dewey Square Hotel in Harlem. Historian Leonard Feather has said that it was these sessions that would later lead to the first steps towards a new form of jazz that became known as bebop. When Freddie rejoined Earl Hines’ band later that year, the personnel included Charlie Parker (who was playing tenor then, not alto), Gillespie, Ray Nance, Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan. This was the legendary Hines band that has been called "The Incubator of Bop" but it was also playing during that long strike by the musicians' union against the recording companies, so that we don't have recordings available from that time.

As we know, the story of the birth of bebop developed as members of the Hines band jammed after hours at Minton’s Playhouse. Miles Davis, in his autobiography, said, "We was all trying to get our masters degrees and PhDs from `Minton's University of Bebop' under the tutelage of Professors Bird and Diz."

In 1942, Freddie joined the Lucky Millinder big band. Critic Barry Ulanov reviewed the Millinder band during a battle of the bands with the Jay McShann band at New York's Savoy Ballroom in February of 1942 and wrote, "Webster is a real find. He plays with a wonderful sense of structure giving all his choruses and half-choruses a discernible beginning, middle and ending. His favorite range is a low register projected with boldness and deepness. He doesn't restrict himself to low notes but makes long scoops from the middle and high registers to the bottom and then sails back up. He plays with an easy technique in perfect taste." Among the solos Webster recorded with Millinder was Bill Doggett's composition "Savoy."


Here is Freddie soloing with Lucky Millinder playing Savoy.




In April 1942 Freddie Webster also joined his friend Pee Wee Jackson in the Jimmie Lunceford band. It was while travelling with Lunceford that Freddie met Miles Davis and the two became great friends. Trumpeter Benny Bailey is reported as saying: ‘Freddie practically taught Miles. I know that because Miles told me that. In fact, there's a solo on a very early Charlie Parker record ("Billie's Bounce") in which Miles played Freddie's solo, note for note!’


Listen to Billie's Bounce with Miles Davis who, apparently, was 19 at the time of this recording.




Freddie went on to play with Benny Carter before returning to New York in 1944 for the first recording session of the Billy Eckstine All-Star Band for the DeLuxe record label.


Here's Benny Carter's band playing Love For Sale in 1943.




A year later, Dizzy Gillespie recruited him for the trumpet section in his first big band. Dizzy later said: ‘Oh, man, we played this arrangement. I made an arrangement on `I Should Care.' I had the solo and I gave the solo to Freddie. I never played that solo no more. The arrangement was out of the band after he left!’

In July of 1945 Webster recorded his own composition, "Reverse The Charges," and "The Man I Love," with a quintet led by tenor saxist Frankie Socolow.


Frankie Socolow and Freddie Webster soloing on The Man I Love in NYC, May 2, 1945.
Freddie Webster (trumpet) Frankie Socolow (tenor sax) Bud Powell (piano) Leonard Gaskin (bass) Irv Kluger (drums) 




A year later, Freddie returned to Cleveland to play with Johnnie Powell. By now he was 29.  The band made one record for Paramount Records of Cleveland, "Perdido," featuring a trumpet solo by Webster. Freddie then joined his old high school friend, Tadd Dameron, who had formed an orchestra to record his composition "If You Could See Me Now" with 22 year old singer Sarah Vaughan.


Freddie Webster with the Tadd Dameron Orchestra and Sarah Vaughan in 1946 and I Can Make You Love Me If You'll Let Me.






1947, the year Freddie died didn't start well. He was about to join the Count Basie Orchestra when apparently Basie asked him what his price was. Webster said, "After you've paid the rest of those guys, you and I split 50-50!" Webster never played with the Basie band!Freddie Webster


Freddie Webster
Picture from Indiana Public Media


In the Spring of that year Freddie went to Chicago to perform with saxophonist Sonny Stitt.

Officially he died of a heart attack in a room at Chicago's Strode Hotel on April 1st. In his autobiography, Miles, Davis claimed that Webster used heroin that was deliberately laced with something poisonous, possibly battery acid or strychnine; that the heroin was given to Sonny Stitt by one of the people that Stitt had physically assaulted to get money to support his heroin addiction, and who was out for revenge; and that Stitt had then passed the heroin on to Webster, not realising that it was poisoned.

I guess we'll never know for sure. Joe Mosbrook writes: 'There is little doubt that trumpeter Freddie Webster was one of the most influential performers in jazz in the 1940s and one of the most important jazz artists from Cleveland. But because of his early death and relatively few solo recordings, the Cleveland trumpeter is hardly known even by many ardent jazz fans'.


To read more about Freddie Webster:

'A Jazz History' by Joe Mosbrook a special WMV Web News Cleveland series, April 3, 1997

Freddie Webster: "The Best Sound On Trumpet Since Trumpet Was Invented" by Dan Miller 2008.


Freddie Webster

Picture from Dan Miller article on Freddie Webster



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