Written by Dan Miller
(1923-1950) Fats Navarro's genius manifested itself through his brilliance as an improviser and his complete mastery of the trumpet. During the forties, Navarro was the only jazz trumpet player equal in stature to Dizzy Gillespie. He had the perfect combination of beautiful tone, crisp articulation and swinging adventurous spirit. Joe Newman on Fats, "He had everything a trumpet player needs: soul, a good lip, continuity and a good sound (one of those big, butter sounds)."
Initially influenced by the great Dud Bascomb, Fats became stylistically indebted to Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers (Navarro's cousin). Fats joined the Snookum Russell band (1941-1942) where he played with J.J. Johnson. He spent 1943-1944 with Andy Kirk's band along-side the forward looking Howard McGhee. McGhee's modernist tendencies and the incredible influence of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, altered Navarro's direction toward the new music. Dizzy recommended Fats as his replacement with Billy Eckstine's band (1945-1946). Eckstine said, "he came right in and great as Diz is, Fats played the book and you would hardly know that Diz had left the band."
The majority of Fats' recording occurred over the next three years (1946-1949). Navarro made excellent recordings as a sideman with Kenny Clarke, Lockjaw Davis, Coleman Hawkins and Bud Powell. The most important professional association of Navarro's career was with pianist Tadd Dameron. Fats embodied the Dameron ideal: lyricism, sophistication and fiery intensity. Their collaboration resulted in tremendous music (Listen: Lady Bird, Our Delight and Dameronia). Dameron's group was ensconced at the Royal Roost during the fall of 1948, and the incredible radio broadcasts survive as arguably Fats' finest work (Listen: Tadd Dameron Band at the Royal Roost 1948). In his final recording, Fats was featured in amazing line-up with Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Art Blakey and Curley Russell live at Birdland (May 1950). Blowing long, beautiful solos, his interplay with Parker is stunning. (Listen: Street Beat and A Night in Tunisia).
He would be dead just two months later due to complications from tuberculosis.
© 2002 Dan Miller
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