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African-American jazz trumpet virtuoso Fats Navarro was one of the founders of bebop. He struggled with a heroin addiction and tuberculosis.
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Born on September 24, 1923, in Key West, Florida, Fats Navarro first performed as a tenor saxophonist in Miami, and went on to play trumpet in big bands. He then worked and recorded with other well-known band leaders, and eventually Tadd Dameron. By then, however, Navarro's struggle with heroin addiction and progressive illness with tuberculosis caused him to perform less often. He died on July 6, 1950, in New York City.
Born Theodore Navarro on September 24, 1923, in Key West, Florida, Fats Navarro was one of the best jazz trumpeters of the 20th century. He was a musical child, receiving piano lessons from his father when he was 6 years old. In 1934, Navarro began studying the trumpet and saxophone at school. At around the age of 13, he started to seriously focus on the trumpet.
After completing high school in 1941, Navarro hit the road as a musician. He played with Andy Kirk's group for a year beginning in 1943. Soon after this, Navarro was brought in to replace Dizzy Gillespie in Billy Eckstine's band. A big appetite and expanding figure during his touring years reportedly earned Navarro the nickname "Fats."
Navarro became a leading bebop jazz trumpeter in the 1940s. He performed and recorded with the Be Bop Boys in 1946 and 1947. Around this time, Navarro began working with pianist Tadd Dameron. Some of his most significant works, such as "Our Delight," came from this collaboration.
On several occasions, Navarro performed with bassist Charles Mingus. Navarro joined the bands of Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman for brief periods as well. With Bud Powell's quintet, Navarro could be heard on recordings such as "Bouncing with Bud." One of Navarro's final performances was with Charlie Parker at New York's famed Birdland club in 1950.
During his short yet remarkable life, Navarro battled drug addiction. His heroin use weakened his health and may have contributed to his untimely death: Navarro came down with tuberculosis and eventually ended up succumbing to the disease. He died in New York City on July 6, 1950. Navarro was only 26 years old. He was survived by his wife Rena and their daughter Linda.
In 2002, a headstone was placed at Navarro's grave. The epitaph on it is a quote from Navarro, which reads: "I'd like to just play a perfect melody, all the chord progressions right, the melody original and fresh—my own."
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Saxophonists have been an integral part of the American jazz scene, with the timbres of their chosen instrument often at the center of layered compositions. Coleman Hawkins was the first American jazz saxophonist to become famous during the 1920s-30s. Jimmy Dorsey and Johnny Hodges also had major success with big bands during jazz's heyday as a popular music juggernaut, while Lester Young popularized the West Coast, cool style. Later, soprano and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane created pioneering works that ranged from "sheets of sound" bebop to unbound, rhythmically complex free jazz. And Branford Marsalis has taken his sax to great heights in non-jazz arenas; he's toured with rock artist Sting and served as musical director for The Tonight Show.
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