The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Only 26 when he died of tuberculosis in 1950, Theodore "Fats" Navarro, cursed by heroin addiction, had become one of the rising stars of bebop, the new language of jazz.
Fats was from the US's southern extreme - Key West, Florida - and from Cuban, black and Chinese roots.
The trumpet became his escape route from the insular life of his birthplace, but as with many bebop musicians, it also became his route to an impossible life and an early death.
He started learning his instrument at 13, began gigging with dance bands at 17, joined Andy Kirk's brass section in 1943, hit the road and replaced Dizzy Gillespie, one of his heroes, in the Billy Eckstine Orchestra in 1945.
Fats's lightning career found him playing with some of the great names of jazz during a short but brilliant ascendancy which put him beside Gillespie in bebop's prime trumpet pairing.
In the five immediate post-war years, Fats - overweight, prey to addiction and his health in an increasingly fragile state as he lived the bebop life to the full in New York city - found himself working and recording with bebop heads like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Clarke and Tadd Dameron and legendary older musicians like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Goodman.
It was too much for any young jazz contender. For the vulnerable Fats it became the beginning of the end.
The Rare Live Recordings (RLR) label specialises in newly discovered waxings of often obscure club or concert performances, but the Complete Last Studio Session recorded in New York in September 1949 includes all the takes of the four tunes cut on the day, and Fats blowing alongside one of Parker's great bebop rhythm sections - Newark-born pianist Al Haig, the ubiquitous bassist Tommy Potter and the nonpareil of drummers from New Land, North Carolina, Max Roach.
On tenor sax was one of bebop's mystery men, one Don Lanphere, born in Wenatchee, Washington, in 1928. Another life thwarted by heroin - a year after this session he was already addicted and festering in Detroit county jail.
On the evidence of this recording and his floating, rounded, Lester Young-like solos, he was a considerable talent now virtually unheard and lost.
The five takes of the unhurried Wailing Wall begin the session. Fats crackles like a growing fire and plays with verve and powerful immediacy. Never a high note man, but energy bursts from his notes and his sudden accelerations as if sound itself were his absolute breath of life.
The second tune Go is a hyped-up version of The Way You Look Tonight and Lanphere comes sweeping in with an immense buoyancy and power, but when Fats splits a note the first take is abandoned.
Not so the second, fourth and sixth where the beautiful lucidity of his solos cut through the studio for 30 glorious seconds each before Haig takes his own moment.
It doesn't take long into the tracks to realise that the four takes of the tune titled as Infatuation are in fact bebop adaptations of the very familiar Body and Soul.
Fats's full-on muscular sound contrasts with the virtual weightless beauty of Lanphere's choruses to create an almost perfect dissimilarity of sound.
In the same mode, the four takes called Stop are in fact a quartet of not-so-subtly latinised versions of the old standard Pennies from Heaven.
The final take is the foremost, with more impressively fluent Lanphere and Fats seemingly fully eager to blow out the full expression and meaning of his artistic message before the terrible crimes self-inflicted on his young body took their full toll.
The last three tracks are more typical RLR fare, with fragments from two live club sessions featuring Navarro. The first, including Lullaby in Rhythm (and definitely not for getting your baby to sleep) is from New York's cafe society in 1950 and is led away by a galloping solo from the blind, London-born pianist George Shearing, before a seething Tony Scott clarinet and Fats's rasping horn dialogue with drummer Ed Shaughnessy.
The final two tracks are from a "Saturday night swing session" broadcast in New York in April 1947 with a group led by the drummer Buddy Rich.
It's a rich opportunity to hear a resplendent Fats alongside the brilliant slidesman Bill Harris.
For Fats, High on an Open Mike, the title of the first number, may well have been all too true and the listener can only reflect how far he and many of his bebop con-freres could have gone without the execrable substances which pulled them down so early.
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