Curtis Fuller, pioneering jazz trombonist, dies at 88
Born in Detroit on Dec. 15, 1932, Fuller was the son of Jamaican immigrants but grew up in an orphanage after his parents’ death when he was a child. When one of the nuns brought him to see Illinois Jacquet in concert, Fuller was inspired by trombonist J. J. Johnson and developed an early passion for jazz. He eventually took up the trombone as a teenager and studied with Johnson and Elmer James.
Fuller served in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955 during the Korean War, where he played in a band with Paul Chambers and brothers Cannonball and Nat Adderley. Upon his return, he moved to New York, where he began playing with Yusef Lateef’s quintet and recorded his first sessions as a leader with Prestige Records. During a gig with Miles Davis, he was discovered by Blue Note executive Alfred Lion. By 1958, Fuller had served as a sideman on Sonny Clark’s recordings Dial “S” for Sonny and Sonny’s Crib and John Coltrane’s highly acclaimed album Blue Train, setting the stage for a lucrative recording career that included work on albums led by Bud Powell, Jimmy Smith, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson and more.
Fuller joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1961 and remained with the band until 1965. In the late ’60s, he was a part of Dizzy Gillespie’s band and toured with Count Basie.
Fuller was granted an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee College of Music in 1999, and he was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2007. He served as a faculty member of the New York State Summer School of the Arts’ School of Jazz Studies. With an abiding love for the music, Fuller continued to perform and record until only a few years before his death.