Though Fats Navarro‘s career lasted less than 10 years, his tone and style influenced many of the trumpeters who followed including: Lee Morgan Freddie Hubbard Woody Shaw and particularly Clifford Brown. Navarro was born in Key West Florida of Cuban-Black-Chinese parentage. According to the 1930 US Census, Navarro’s father’s name was Theodore and his mother was Miriam. He had one sister Elizabeth who was two years younger than he was. His father owned a barber shop. Navarro started playing the piano at the age of six and switched to the trumpet at the age of 13 by the age of 17 he was playing professionally. From 1943 to 1944 Navarro played with Andy Kirk recording five albums before he replaced Dizzy Gillespie in Billy Eckstine’s Big Band in 1945. For the following three years only Dizzy topped Navarro among bop trumpeters.
According to his biography at Wikipedia, during the years from 1945 to 1950 Navarro recorded
with Kenny Clarke’s Be Bop Boys, Coleman Hawkins, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Illinois Jacquet, and most significantly Tadd Dameron during 1946-1947. He had short stints with the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman, continued working with Dameron, made classic recordings with Bud Powell (in a quintet with a young Sonny Rollins) and the Metronome All-Stars, and a 1950 Birdland appearance with Charlie Parker was privately recorded. Full Biography
The nickname “Fats” was a shortened form of his nickname “Fat Girl” a result of a weight problem. During his career, Navarro like many other jazz musicians developed a heroin addiction. He also developed tuberculosis. All of these afflictions led to a decline in his health and his eventual death at the young age twenty-six. Navarro was hospitalized on July 1 after his last performance at Birdland with Charlie Parker, and died 6 days later, on July 7, 195o.
Obviously we will never know what could have been, but we can speculate that if he had lived another 40 to 50 years he certainly could have done great things in the world of jazz. I must admit that I never really heard Navarro’s name before the last couple of years, when I started to listen to jazz in a little more depth. I did listen today to several of the tracks on an album titled Classics that was released this past May, and then tonight I listened to some of The Fabulous Fats Navarro Volume 2, enjoyed both and still have several more albums to explore!! I let you know what I discover along the way!
Here’s Fats with the Tadd Dameron Sextet playing “Lady Bird”
Fats Navarro (tp) Ernie Henry (as) Charlie Rouse (ts) Tadd Dameron (p) Nelson Boyd (b) Shadow Wilson (d) 1947