Photo by Mark Olson
Curtis Fuller beat the odds. After the early death of both parents, he was raised in a Detroit orphanage. But he was lucky enough to grow up in a Detroit that was spawning future jazz stars—trumpeter Donald Byrd and the great bassist Paul Chambers were school chums. Then, the US Army provided his ticket to ride with his membership in a band that included, along with Chambers, both Nat and Art Blakey. With that solid start, he moved to New York at just 23 and made his first recording as a leader.
By the late 50s, Fuller was playing with Miles Davis and John Coltrane on whose immortal album Blue Train he appears. He was a member of the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet and later became the sixth man in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. In the late 1960s, he was part of Dizzy Gillespie's band and went on to tour with Count Basie.
Curtis Fuller continues to perform and record. His discography stands at close to 100 recordings on major labels with Kenny Dorham, Gil Evans, Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Quincy Jones, Art Blakey (he appears on the iconic Ugetsu), Lee Morgan and others too numerous to list. He is currently a faculty member of the New York State Summer School of the Arts School of Jazz Studies.
A little spadework on the part of Fuller protégé, trumpeter Josh Bruneau, brought together a band to join Mr. Fuller that could not have pleased Muir more. It included musicians who had a special place in her Festival’s history. Hartford resident bassist Nat Reeves was on the founding faculty of Litchfield Jazz Camp where he worked in 1997 and 1998 before hitting the road with Kenny Garrett. Drummer Joe Farnsworth also taught at Litchfield and both he and Reeves have appeared on the festival stage. Rounding out the group are Kris Jensen on saxophone and Rick Germanson on piano.
Curtis Fuller and Friends will appear at Litchfield Jazz Festival, August 9 at 3:30 PM.