Theodore “Fats” Navarro (September 24, 1923 – July 7, 1950) was a jazz trumpet player born in Key West, Florida, to Cuban-Black-Chinese parents. He began playing the piano at six, but did not become serious about music until he began playing the trumpet at thirteen. He moved quite often around Florida and South United States.
He joined Snookum Russell’s territory band, and settled in New York City in 1946.
When I think of “Fats” Navarro I think of artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. Like him, they too all died at a young age, while they were at the top of their game.
Fats was a central figure in the emergence of bebop and his exciting style, speed, and tone seemed ideally suited to the bebop style, as it was gaining momentum in New York in the 1940s. He had everything a trumpet player needed: soul, a good lip and a great sound.
Fats started out working with Andy Kirk during 1943-1944, and replaced Dizzy Gillespie with the Billy Eckstine’s modern jazz big band during 1945-1946.
After Ecksteins band broke up Navarro played in a host of groups in New York. He worked with great jazzists such as Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Howard McGhee and Eddie Lockjaw Davis. Additionally, Fats also played short stints with the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman. Plus, he had some great recording sessions with Tadd Damerson band and did some classic recordings with Bud Powell as a formed quintet along with Sonny Rollins and the Metronome all-stars. He also made a private recording in 1950 at Birdland with Charlie Parker. Shortly after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. That, along with a herion addiction and a weight problem, led to a slow decline in his health, which led to his death at 26 (on July 7th 1950).
When I listen some of Fats recordings like ‘The Squirrel‘, ‘Double Talk‘ and ‘52nd Street Theme‘, I am reminded that he was one of the greatest trumpet players of his time. If he had not have died so young, maybe he would be known as one of the greatest of all time. I just wish he could have lived longer because I could have seen him playing live in one of those clubs on 52nd street. I recommend you get some Fats Navarro recordings and judge for yourself, I think you will definitely be impressed.