At age 75, trombonist Curtis Fuller’s biography is nothing less than a timeline of modern Jazz. Orphaned and institutionalized at an early age, the Detroit native was school pals with Paul Chambers and Donald Byrd and was well acquainted with Milt Jackson and Thad Jones. Learning trombone as a teenager, Fuller played with the Adderley brothers during his two-year Army hitch and joined Yusef Lateef’s groundbreaking quintet upon his return to the Motor City.
After a move to New York in the late ’50s, Fuller sessioned and gigged with (among many others) Miles Davis, Sonny Clark, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Blue Mitchell, John Coltrane, Bud Powell and Jimmy Smith. Fuller was the only trombonist to ever record with Coltrane, Powell and Smith.
In the ’60s, Fuller played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers before joining Dizzy Gillespie and touring with Count Basie. Starting in 1957, Fuller regularly recorded as a bandleader, ultimately racking up a dozen and a half albums under his own name, the most recent being 2004’s Up Jumped Spring and 2005’s Keep It Simple; prior to those two, Fuller’ previous four release were gapped by no less than 11 years and as much as 16 years. In the ’70s Fuller sporadically worked with the Messengers, and in the ’80s he toured and worked with the Timeless All Stars (featuring Cedar Walton and Bobby Hutcherson), the Paris Reunion Band and Giant Bones (which he co-led with Kai Winding).
The Jazz legend was dogged by persistent health problems in the mid-’90s but overcame them through perseverance and a relentless work ethic. In a career that's spanned 60 years, dozens of albums and countless gigs, Fuller is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential and respected trombonists in the history of Jazz and seems well prepared to carry his legacy into a seventh amazing decade.
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