(b. 1934) is my favorite
. His improvisations
are so lyrical that
I can sing along with his solos on one my favorite CD,
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
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.