What are the greatest names in bop? Many would readily answer Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. Another great name is rarely mentioned. Theodore “Fats” Navarro died tragically young, but left his mark on the emerging jazz form. A victim of chronic tuberculosis, Navarro’s health spiraled toward his death at the tender age of 27. But what a legacy he left us!
I had the luck to first hear of this phenomenon on Ed Beach’s “Just Jazz” show, a daily feature of Riverside Church’s late great FM service, WRVR (which, now sold, appears, alas, to be “continuous soft rock.”)* It took a stint abroad for me to see my first Fats Navarro LP. The cozy little record store in Oxford, England, which I frequented weekly, had two volumes of a “Fats Navarro Memorial.” Finally I could study the trumpeter and ponder his impact on jazz. The liner notes writer, Ken Barnes, lays it on the line:
“His playing in the late forties easily outstripped the early efforts of Miles Davis whose work in those days appeared no more than ordinary by comparison. There were also occasions … where Navarro’s wholesome blowing even exceeded the instrumental elegance of the ebullient Dizzy Gillespie.”
So rare were these Navarro tracks that my stateside jazz musician friends needed to borrow them to study. Saxophonist/composer Pat Moriarity held on to them for several years, bless him, and I was ecstatic to finally welcome them back like old friends.
All this speaks to the fact that the man’s brilliance and contribution to America’s music are undercut by his obscurity.
Another release from England, The Fats Navarro Story (Properbox 11), gathers four compact discs’ worth of music. Joop Visser’s notes point out: “Fats Navarro was one of the most perfectly equipped trumpeters in jazz. He had a beautiful tone, brilliance of execution, solid musicianship and great powers of invention.” Visser also explains that Navarro was known as “Fat Girl” for his “almost feminine concern” for the well-being of his friends.
If you are a jazz fan, I recommend you acquaint yourself (or renew your acquaintance) with Fats Navarro. His horn blew fleet and fast, his brief life flew by fast, let’s let his music’s memory last. Here’s a few tunes to whet your interest:
“Ice Freezes Red”
Until next time, happy record playing!
*There is an on-line broadcast site which is dedicated to the old WRVR format.