Curtis Fuller (b. 1934) is my favorite jazz trombonist. His improvisations are so lyrical that I can sing along with his solos on one my favorite CD, Mosaic by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.

Fuller was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He was part of Yusef Lateef's quintet and moved with them to New York City where he became a hot commodity. He joined the sextet created by tenor sax player Benny Golson and trumpeter Art Farmer, called the Jazztet.

Fuller joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1961, joining Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard in the front, backed up by Cedar Walton on piano, Jimmy Merritt (later Reginald Workman) on bass, and Blakey on drums. In my humble opinion, this was one of Blakey's finest line-ups. He also played on John Coltrane's excellent album Blue Train.

Later, in the late 1980's, the Jazztet was reincarnated with the same horn players but a younger rhythm section. I saw the band play in what was to be the greatest convergence of good luck that I've seen so far in my life. My friend and I were just looking through the newspaper and saw that the Jazztet was giving a free concert Sunday afternoon in a mall of all places. (These guys had dates at the best jazz clubs in New York City. It must have been a charity or promotional thing or something. So instead of paying $30 each to go to the city, we went up to the mall and saw them for free. Sure the sound wasn't great, but the music was.

After the concert, people sort of cleared out, and my friend and I just walked up to the stage where the band was packing up. The revered older horn players were chatting with a bunch of folks, so we found ourselves right next to the drummer, Marvin "Smitty" Smith. We talked a while about the music and what it was like to be playing with these masters. It looked like the masters were too occupied to talk to us high school brats, so we just wandered around the mall in a futile search for a decent record store.

Walking back, who should we run into, but Curtis Fuller, walking alone in a camel colored overcoat and grey hat, his trombone gig bag slung over his shoulder. We smiled and said we enjoyed the show. He said something like, "Thanks. Say, you guys know which way Macy's is? That's where I parked." He was going the wrong direction. We walked with him to the mall's hub and pointed him to Macy's. "Thanks a lot. You guys want an autograph?" Of course we did. We handed him our programs. He looked at us; we looked at him. "Got a pen?" We did not. Looking immediately over my right shoulder I saw, sitting on a mixer still there from the show, a yellow number 2 pencil, sharpened. Yes!

I believe I must still paying off that good luck today.

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