Theodore “Fats” Navarro (trumpet) was born on September 24, 1923 in Key West, Florida and passed away on July 6, 1950 in NYC, New York at the age of 26.
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. He worked with Andy Kirk during 1943-1944, and replaced Dizzy Gillespie with the Billy Eckstine big band during 1945-1946.
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 had short stints with the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman, continued working with Dameron, made classic recordings with Bud Powell (in a quintet with a young Sonny Rollins) and the Metronome All-Stars, and a 1950 Birdland appearance with Charlie Parker was privately recorded. He also participated in small group recording sessions with Kenny Clarke, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, and Howard McGhee. 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.
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.
The Epitaph on Fats Navarro grave stone reads:
“I’d Like To Just Play A Perfect Melody, All The Chord Progressions Right, The Melody Original And Fresh – My Own.”
Navarro was survived by wife Rena (née Clark; 1927–1975) and daughter Linda (born 1949), who currently lives in Seattle, Washington.