Fats Navarro Essay, Research Paper
The story begins in Key West, Florida where Theodore “Fats” Navarro was born of mixed Cuban-Black-Chinese parentage on September 24, 1923. His musical training began early with piano lessons at age six, but he did not start taking music seriously until he took up the trumpet at age thirteen. He became good during his high school years. He also played tenor saxophone and played briefly with Walter Johnson’s band in Miami. Apparently Fats did not care much for Key West. He was once quoted as saying “I didn’t like Key West at all. I’ll never go back.” So, after graduating high school, he joined Sol Allbrights’s band in Orlando, so Fats traveled with him to Cincinnati, and took further trumpet lessons from an Ohio teacher. He then went on the road with Snookum Russell’s Indianapolis orchestra. Russell’s group, a band well known in the area in the 1940s, proved to be very good for Fats. It was a place where he developed, experimented, and made mistakes that no one would remember before heading on to the national stage. Fats stayed with Russell for about two years (1941-42) and became their trumpet soloist. Fats worked next with Andy Kirk and his Kansas City “Clouds of Joy.” Here he made a friendship with trumpeter Howard McGhee.
Fats role in the Andy Kirk band explains this story retold by Billy Eckstine describing how Fats moved over to his band.
Dizzy Gillespie left my band in Washington, D.C. He told me to go over to hear Andy Kirk, because there was a fellow with Kirk named Fats Navarro. ‘Take a listen to him,’ said Dizzy, ‘he’s wonderful!’ So I went out to the club, and the only thing Fats had to blow was behind a chorus number. But he was wailing behind this number, and I said to myself, ‘This is good enough this’ll fit.’ So I got Fats to come by and talk it over, and about two weeks after that he took Dizzy’s chair, and take it from me, he came right in … Great as Diz is … Fats played his book and you would hardly know that Diz had left the band. ‘Fat Girl’ played Dizzy’s solos, not note for note, but his ideas on Dizzy’s parts and the feeling was the same and there was just as much swing.
Eckstine’s band was very successful, due to Eckstine’s romantic vocals, and the most musically advanced voice. Besides Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the band included at one time or other during a four year span a lineup of future stars that is very well known in all of jazz: Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Gene Ammons, Lucky Thompson, Bud Johnson, Frank Wess, Charlie Rouse, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Cecil Payne, Tadd Dameron, Jerry Valentine, Tommy Potter, Art Blakey, and Sarah Vaughan were some of the more famous to pass through the band.
The End Comes
Somewhere along the way, Fats contracted tuberculosis, which is usually a slow developing malady. The combination of his drug habit, and the TB led to a sharp decline in his health and a decrease of his musical activity over the last seventeen months of his life. He nevertheless went on the road one last time with the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour for about seven weeks in February and March of 1949. Fats had been described as coughing uncontrollably and appearing physically drained during this period. Theodore “Fats” Navarro died on July 7, 1950 in a New York City hospital.