The Jazzman cometh
Just another unsung international treasure from Detroit.
Published: August 31, 2011
Fuller has the most fun recalling his time performing with Dizzy Gillespie. "I did a tour with Dizzy's small band. I was also in the big band. I did a record with him in East Germany, which somebody recently sent me a CD of, when they still had the wall up, so it was the '80s or something like that. We travelled for six weeks or something. It was just two horns, Dizzy and myself, plus Ed Cherry on guitar, and a bass and drums. Dizzy was very political and at one point he had buttons that said 'Vote for Dizzy for President.' He was like an institution ... that was an epic time in my life."
Inarguably, Fuller's best-known recorded work is on John Coltrane's Blue Train (which also featured his old school friend Paul Chambers on double bass). The 1957 record is one of Coltrane's most popular, and it earned Fuller a gold record. "People start announcing how many records something has sold — a million copies or a million singles? That's a whole different thing," he says. Blue Train is one of the most popular I've been on. I even have a gold record they sent me, but I guess everybody's gone except me; I sit here looking around; I have no idea when the Grim Reaper's gonna tap me on the shoulder."
Hopefully, not for a good long time. Fuller now lives near Boston, though he's returning home for this weekend's Detroit Jazz Festival. He's relishing the trip. "That's home," he says. "The downside is everything has changed so much. When I do come home, I'm just there for a short time. I have fond memories of the Detroit Music Hall when the Detroit Symphony used to rehearse there. Detroit was a good breeding ground for music. Really complete because everybody from around the country used to try to get to Detroit to see and play. There was a lot of things to do then. I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of friends, and hopefully there will be some new people that have followed my career. As for the show, it will be the group that I use a lot when I play in New York. I live near Boston, so when I'm in the New York area, I use this band and they're all good musicians. I play my repertoire, all things that I arranged and am associated with — I've always liked the free horn sound."
Jazz fan or not, there aren't many folks like Curtis Fuller around anymore. The festival set will be a treasurable experience that all Detroit music fans should embrace.
The Detroit Jazz Festival runs from Sept. 2-5. The Curtis Fuller Sextet performs Saturday, Sept. 3, on the Mack Avenue Waterfront Stage at 3:15 p.m
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