Some people—the lucky ones—just know, very early on, who they are. Ted Chubb was still in his teens when he realized music was his calling. “When I was 10, the band instruments were demonstrated at school and it was never a question of if I was going to play, only which one,” he says. “For some reason the trumpet just felt like my voice. Once I began playing, it felt a part of me.”
For more than two decades now, music—specifically jazz—has defined Ted Chubb. The multi-faceted artist has not only expressed himself as a trumpeter but has also displayed a unique voice as a composer. He has served as both bandleader and sideman and has worked as an educator and music director/administrator. Since the beginning of his career, his wide-ranging diversity and a ceaseless drive to fine-tune his craft and pay it forward have marked his approach. On his own recordings—2009’s New Tricks, with saxophonist Mike Lee, 2011’s Alternate Side and, most recently, his brand-new album Gratified Never Satisfied—and in his work with others, Chubb has demonstrated an innate ability to adapt his knowledge, talent and worldliness to every aspect of his art and work.
Chubb grew up surrounded by music. He was born in Ohio, his mother a cellist, pianist and soprano singer. “I sang in church choirs, played Suziki violin for a short time and took piano lessons,” he says. “We were always going to local concerts that my mother was playing in. As a child it was not uncommon in my house at family gatherings for everyone to be around the piano singing as my mother or grandmother played.”
It wasn’t long before the young Ted was drawn to one particular genre. “Music was always something that was natural to me but not something I put a lot of emphasis on until I found jazz,” he says. “Music was just something that I did that was a natural part of being in my family, but when I found Miles Davis’ ’Round About Midnight, and Lee Morgan with Art Blakey on A Night in Tunisia, it held a whole new meaning for me. It was a sound that, as a kid growing up in a small town in Ohio, I had no idea existed. I was completely enthralled with it from the moment I heard those records.”
By age 10, Chubb was playing trumpet. He was fortunate to find teachers who not only taught him technique but put the music into context. Chubb credits one early mentor, Dennis Reynolds, “who helped set me on a path that was rooted in the principles of the music that I still hold dear to this day. Without him I am not sure I would still be playing today.”
At Ohio State University Chubb found like-minded young players and began to work professionally in the area, “in Latin bands, soul bands, big bands, avant-garde bands, jam bands, sitting in with everyone I could, as well as leading my own jazz groups and quartet gigs.” A couple of major musical influences on Chubb during this period were saxophonist Gene Walker and organist Bobby Floyd. “Gene had the sound and feel of the great soul tenor players like Stanley Turrentine and Gene Ammons,” Chubb says, “and when you heard his sound you knew you were around the real thing. I began working almost weekly in many different configurations of Gene’s band from when I was 20 until I was 23 and moved to New Jersey.”
Many of the bands in which Chubb apprenticed were built upon the Hammond B3 organ, and one of the most formative of these experiences for Chubb was playing every Sunday in a non-denominational church with Walker and Floyd. “The band was only two horns, organ, drums and a vocalist,” Chubb says. “It was a whole new way to play music that I had never been confronted with before, learning African-American hymns, playing shouting music, and even some country tunes. Having these experiences deeply shaped how I played jazz. From these lessons I knew that the music had to tell an authentic story, had to reach someone—we had to make someone feel something real. The blues was the beginning and the end to making that happen. Everything I play I want to have the blues in it.”
In 2003, Chubb moved to New Jersey to study with trumpeter and teacher William B. Fielder, “Prof,” who also became a major influence. “I knew that for me to make a real go of it as a trumpet player I needed to play the instrument better, and that he was the man to help me with that,” says Chubb. He began playing at the New Jersey club Cecil’s, and got into owner Cecil Brooks’ bands. “At Cecil’s I found a musical home that was similar to the environment that I grew up in, but also at a much more intense level as you never knew who might walk in the door. It was a home for musicians in the area and it gave me great access to some of the best in the world. The musicians I met and played with at Cecil’s would become the community that now I am professionally connected.”
As the years progressed, Chubb absorbed the contributions of numerous musicians, picking up influences from trumpet greats Miles Davis, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie, Blue Mitchell, Art Farmer, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Chet Baker, Freddie Hubbard, Nat Adderley and Clark Terry, and virtuosos on other instruments, including Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, Ahmad Jamal, Grant Green, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock. He adds to that list singers such as Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan, as well as various arrangers and classical composers.
Travel abroad has also increased the extent of Chubb’s musical palette. He has appeared at jazz festivals and venues across the globe including Peru, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, France, Denmark and St. Lucia. Chubb has also traveled in search of expanding his musical horizons to Brazil, Thailand, Bali, Greece, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and India. “I love to hear as much music as possible, not always even the most professional music but the folk music of the country, where regular folks are expressing themselves. I am not so interested in perfection but rather emotion and connecting with people. When I visited India it was like this; there was music everywhere.”
Often, though, he hasn’t needed to go far to find inspiration. Locally, Chubb has worked regularly in recent years as a member of trumpeter Wallace Roney’s Orchestra and in drummer Winard Harper’s band. Of the former, he says, “Wallace is an awe-inspiring trumpet player and musician, and he possesses incredible virtuosity and creativity,” Chubb originally met Harper in 2006 as a participant in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center and began working regularly in his band almost a decade later. Chubb says, he has learned from Harper “that you have to push yourself much past your limit to even keep up with where he operates at his norm. He has taught me to dig deeper than I thought I could; he holds every note he and the band plays as deeply spiritual.”
Chubb has also worked with a dizzying array of artists including Christian McBride, Antonio Hart, Norman Simmons, Wycleff Gordon, Melissa Walker, Oscar Perez, Bruce Williams, Billy Hart, Don Braden, Tia Fuller, Vincent Gardner, Dave Stryker, Jerome Jennings, and The Josh Evans Big Band. He has performed at such top New York City jazz clubs as Smalls, Fat Cat, the Jazz Standard, Minton’s and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Another formative experience for Chubb was his five-year run as a member of the touring company of the Broadway musical Jersey Boys. In all, he played the music of the show, based on the story of the pop-rock group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, some 1,500 times as well as on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. “I really learned what it meant to be a working trumpet player, no matter how you felt that day you had to produce,” he says. “There were a thousand people or so in the audience at almost every show that didn’t care how you felt; they just wanted to have a good time, so you had to do your job.”
From this cornucopia of experiences, Chubb’s own distinctive music has emerged; he found his own place by understanding where it has been and injecting his own personality into his playing. “Presentation and connecting with the audience was the biggest thing I learned from being a sideman,” he adds. “The great bandleaders study this. They are always trying to refine their set and how they can better reach the listener and move them emotionally and make them feel good.”
With all of that input constantly shaping him, from the start Chubb has been able to form his own concepts as a leader. “As a trumpet player we always have to be bandleaders,” he says. “I have been leading gigs since I was 16. The instrument requires you to be out front, as well as the economics of the music. I also think there is something about the personality of a person who chooses the trumpet that predisposes them to be bandleaders.”
Chubb’s band New Tricks, with Mike Lee, was a chordless quartet with trumpet, tenor, bass and drums; they released two albums and although they are no longer together, Chubb still collaborates with Lee in different configurations. “In this day and age I see the independent artist as an entrepreneur, so we have to have our own vision for what we want the end product to be,” he says. “The New Tricks experience was so powerful that I really needed some space to come up with a new voice for the next phase of my career.”
Now the trumpeter leads his own Ted Chubb Band—featured on the new Gratified Never Satisfied—which includes his original compositions as well as reimagined classics. He also leads a quartet that focuses on the Great American songbook standards, ballads, bossa novas, and blues.
All of these outlets have given Chubb, as artist, an opportunity to project his own persona through his music, and to spread his own influence. As an educator, he has been able to teach others some of what he’s learned, and to set them on their own musical paths. He has given private lessons and master classes at many colleges and high schools. Over the past five years, he has worked closely with the New Jersey-based Jazz House Kids, a community arts organization—run by singer Melissa Walker and her legendary jazz bassist husband Christian McBride—exclusively dedicated to educating children through jazz.
Says Chubb: “I began in the program teaching small ensembles, adult classes and trumpet classes and grew into directing the program for three years,” during which he led a faculty of 20 of the New York area’s top musicians and each year served 150-plus students and families through their music education at the Jazz House. Chubb developed and built programming and partnerships with the New Jersey Ballet, NJPAC, the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, London’s Tomorrow’s Warriors, the Monk Institute and the James Moody Scholarship for New Jersey. Now Chubb, who splits his time between Europe and the New York/New Jersey area, directs the Jazz House Summer Workshop and Special Programming.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to grow and develop the program from a great local/regional program into a nationally recognized organization,” he says of his time as director of Jazz House Kids. “My approach to education,” he explains, “is through language both as a trumpet player and as an improviser. I believe that the trumpet should be played in a natural way, more like a singer. Many of the concepts about breathing and flow I learned from William Fielder, my trumpet teacher at Rutgers. I also believe that jazz is a language and should be taught more similarly to an actual spoken language. There is improvised vocabulary and repertoire that you have to know to be able to communicate with other musicians in a logical and meaningful way.”
Gratified Never Satisfied, Chubb’s new release, is undeniably the most fully realized recording of his career. It establishes him as a singular creative force in contemporary jazz, an artist steeped in the music’s legacy who is pointing squarely toward its future. Says Chubb, “I am in a phase in my life where I am trying to connect with and develop relationships through the music around the globe, any where there are people that can benefit from the positive and universal power of the music. In a time where so much of the world is trying to divide us from one another, I believe this is of the highest importance.”