Born: September 24, 1923
Died: July 7, 1950 (*)
Theodore "Fats" Navarro (September 24, 1923 – July 7, 1950) was an American jazz trumpet player. He was a pioneer of the bebop style of jazz improvisation in the 1940s. He had a strong stylistic influence on many other players, most notably Clifford Brown.
Navarro was born in Key West, Florida, to Cuban-Black-Chinese parentage. He began playing piano at age six, but did not become serious about music until he began playing trumpet at age of thirteen. He was a childhood friend of drummer Al Dreares. By the time he graduated from Douglass high school he wanted to be away from Key West and joined a dance band headed for the midwest.
Tiring of the road life after touring with many bands and gaining valuable experience, including influencing a young J. J. Johnson when they were together in Snookum Russell's territory band, Navarro settled in New York City in 1946, where his career took off. He met and played with, among others, Charlie Parker, one of the greatest musical innovators of modern jazz improvisation, but Navarro was in a position to demand a high salary, and did not join one of Parker's regular groups. He also developed a heroin addiction, which, coupled with tuberculosis and a weight problem (he was nicknamed "Fat Girl") led to a slow decline in his health and death at the age of twenty-six.
Fats Navarro performing "Tadd Walk" (**)
Among others, Fats Navarro played in the Andy Kirk, Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton big bands, and participated in small group recording sessions with Kenny Clarke, Tadd Dameron, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Howard McGhee, and Bud Powell.
In Charles Mingus' somewhat counter-factual autobiography "Beneath the Underdog", Navarro and Mingus strike up a deep friendship while touring together. Navarro was hospitalized on July 1 and died in the evening of July 7, 1950. His last performance was with Charlie Parker on July 1 at Birdland.
Navarro was survived by wife Rena (née Clark; 1927–1975) and daughter Linda (born 1949), who currently lives in Seattle, Washington.
(*) According to some other sources, Fats Navarro died on July "6", 1950
(**) Audio quote "Tadd Walk" is from track #9 of the album: "Fats Navarro - Memorial"
Personnel on track: Fats Navarro (trumpet), Tadd Dameron (piano), Dillon Curley Russell (bass),
Kenny Clarke (drums), Ernest Henry (alto saxophone) - Recorded October 28, 1947