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Curtis Fuller belongs in the select circle with J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, and a few others who make the trombone sound fluid and inviting rather than awkward. His ability to make wide-octave leaps and play whiplash phrases in a relaxed, casual manner is a testament to his skill. Fuller's solos and phrases are often ambitious and creative, and he's worked in several fine bands and participated in numerous great sessions. Fuller studied music in high school, then began developing his skills in an Army band, where he played with Cannonball Adderley. He worked in Detroit with Kenny Burrell and Yusef Lateef, then moved to New York. Fuller made his recording debut as a leader on Transition in 1955, and recorded in the late '50s for Blue Note, Prestige, United Artists, and Savoy. He was a charter member of the Jazztet with Benny Golson and Art Farmer in 1959, then played in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1961 to 1965. There were additional recording dates for Warwick, Smash/Trip, Epic, and Impulse! in the '60s. Fuller toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1968, then did several sessions in New York. During the '70s, he experimented for a time playing hard bop arrangements in a band featuring electronic instruments, heading a group with guitarist Bill Washer and Stanley Clarke. He concluded that phase with the 1973 album Crankin'. Fuller toured with the Count Basie band from 1975 to 1977, and did dates for Mainstream, Timeless, and Bee Hive. He co-led the quintet Giant Bones with Winding in 1979 and 1980, and played with Art Blakey, Cedar Walton, and Benny Golson in the late '70s and early '80s. During the '80s, Fuller toured Europe regularly with the Timeless All-Stars, and performed and recorded with the revamped Jazztet in addition to leading a fine session for Savoy in 1993.
Curtis DuBois Fuller (born December 15, 1934, Detroit) is an American jazz trombonist, known as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and contributor to many classic jazz recordings.
Fuller's Jamaican-born parents died when he was young; he was raised in an orphanage. While in Detroit he was a schoolfriend of Paul Chambers and Donald Byrd, and also knew Tommy Flanagan, Thad Jones and Milt Jackson. After army service between 1953 and 1955 (when he played in a band with Chambers and brothers Cannonball and Nat Adderley), Fuller joined the quintet of Yusef Lateef, another Detroit musician. In 1957 the quintet moved to New York, and Fuller recorded his first sessions as a leader for Prestige Records.
Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records first heard him playing with Miles Davis in the late 1950s, and featured him as a sideman on record dates led by Sonny Clark and John Coltrane; Fuller's work on the latter's Blue Train album is probably his best known recorded performance. Fuller led four dates for Blue Note, though one of these, an album with Slide Hampton, was not issued for many years. Other sideman appearances over the next decade included work on albums under the leadership of Bud Powell, Jimmy Smith, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan and Joe Henderson (a former room mate at Wayne State University in 1956).
Fuller was also the first trombonist to be a member of the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, later becoming the sixth man in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1961, staying with Blakey until 1965. In the early 1960s, he recorded two albums as a leader for Impulse! Records, having also recorded for Savoy Records and Epic after his obligations to Blue Note had ended. In the late 1960s, he was part of Dizzy Gillespie's band, that also featured Foster Elliott. He went on to tour with Count Basie and also reunited with Blakey and Golson.
Fuller continues to perform and record, and is currently a faculty member of the New York State Summer School of the Arts (NYSSSA) School of Jazz Studies (SJS).