On this day, September 14th, 1971 – Freddie Hubbard went into the studio to record what would become his Grammy winning album, First Light.

Recorded over two days, the 14th and 16th, and Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio, using an ensemble cast containing many of the CTI “All Stars” with arrangements and conducting by Don Sebesky.

Among the sidemen ensemble for the recording were Hubert Laws, George Benson, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, and Airto Moreira, as well as orchestra regulars Gene Orloff, Charles McCracken, and Sebesky’s go to harpist Margaret Ross.

Timing is Everything?

Looking back it is hard to know why, but searching through the Billboard and commercial music magazine archives, I can find no contemporary reviews of First Light. Sure, in hindsight all the jazz websites, and music streaming services have something to say about the album, but little, to nothing at the time.

First Light was Freddie’s third album for CTI, following Red Clay, and Straight Life. Issued in the USA in October 12th, 1971, It made the Jazz charts by January 1972, and hovered in the Top-20 from then until mid-year; by February 5th it made the Billboard Soul chart (#30) and the Jazz chart (#17). That’s three albums recorded and released in two years. We now know that Freddie had been signed by Creed on a four album deal.

By the time the GRAMMY award win was announced, in 1973, his fourth CTI album, Sky Dive had already been released. Interestingly, Hubbard’s The Hub of Hubbard” recorded before he signed for CTI was also in the charts. The June 30th Billboard Jazz chart(see picture), had Sky Dive #9, and First Light #17. Note in Billboard, and often by 1973, the album was referred to as 1st Light. Both albums were still in the Billboard jazz chart in October 1973, a remarkable achievement for both Freddie Hubbard and Creed Taylor.

CTI even ran a Billboard advertisement, proclaiming “The Charts Speak For US” using the “1st Light” version of the album name.

GRAMMY Nomination and Win

While First Light won Hubbard his only GRAMMY award, at the 1972, 15th Annual GRAMMY Awards, which were presented in 1973. In addition to the win for “Best Jazz Performance By A Group”, the nominee’s for the award that year also included George Benson’s White Rabbit, which Benson goes on to discuss in his biography, but also nominated was Joe Farrell’s Outback.

The track Lonely Town from the album was also nominated for “Best Instrumental Arrangement” for Don Sebesky, and Hubbard himself was also nominated that year for “Best Jazz Performance By A Soloist”, an award Hubbard would be nominated for again in 1973 and 1974, but never won.

Freddie’s First Light was one of my first CTI sessions, at once slick and rich – full of interesting tunes, hip arrangements by Creed’s favorite arranger Don Sebesky, and some killer playing from Mr. Hubbard. … Even though Freddie and I weren’t competitive people, we were thrown into a competition at the 1972 Grammy Awards, when First Light was nominated alongside my album White Rabbit. … When First Light won, I was nothing but happy for Freddie, and I told him, ‘Hey, man, nobody ever nominated me for anything. And I played on your Grammy-winning record. Right on!”

George Benson, discussing First Light in the Alan Goldsher co-written book BENSON P139.


What we learn from Doug Payne’s discography list(below) is that the recording was split over two days. Only the McCartney track, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey was recorded, with the rest of the time at Englewood Cliffs presumably spent on rehearsals. The choice of the Paul and Linda McCartney track was interesting, first it obviously signaled a continued drive by Creed Taylor to push jazz to the more profitable side of the music business; second, the track, from the Paul and Linda McCartney album RAM was Billboard #1 in the Hot 100 on September 4th, and at the time of the Hubbard recording. Third, it was the first post-Beatles song to be recorded on CTI/KUDU; Fourth, Paul McCartney won the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists in 1971 for the song, a year before Hubbard’s GRAMMY win. Finally, the critics panned the McCartney version of Uncle Albert, something that Creed and the CTI artists were experiencing from the jazz traditionalists.

The McCartney arrangement featured a number of sound effects including the sounds of a thunderstorm, with rain, sea birds, the sound of a clicking telephone dialing, and an answering machine, all eschewed in the Taylor/Sebesky/Hubbard track. it is a fantastic jazz arrangement with outstanding playing from Hubbard, Benson, and Laws.

Of the tracks recorded on September 16th, only Polar AC was not included on the First Light, and once Freddie had delivered his contracted four albums, had a somewhat disputed split with CTI, and Polar AC would become the title track of of a 1975 album released on CTI 6056. As Doug Payne notes:

Also recorded at these sessions is Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy in D” (first heard under that title on the 1973 Art Blakey album Anthenagin). Composer and pianist Cedar Walton was a longtime friend and associate of Hubbard’s, dating back to their time together in the Jazz Messengers and surely provided Hubbard with this song, even before recording it with Art Blakey, though the LP’s limited playing restrictions at the time prevented Walton’s song from being included on the First Light LP. Several years after Freddie Hubbard departed CTI for Columbia Records, producer Creed Taylor dug out the song (complete with a finished Sebesky string arrangement and lovely solos from both Freddie Hubbard and Hubert Laws) and called it, for whatever reason, “Polar AC.”

Doug Payne, Sound Insights http://dougpayne.blogspot.com/2011/04/celebrating-cti-records-40th.html

Doug Payne and Arnaldo Desouteiro capture the essence of First Light in their reviews on the album and CD release, on Arnaldo’s Jazz Station blog(link below).

Worth noting about other tracks on the album, Yesterday’s Dream was originally written for a 1969 Dizzy Gillespie album Cornucopia also arranged by Don Sebesky. There, it swung into bossa nova, whereas here it is more orchestral, like a film cue. Moment to Moment is the theme to a little known 1966 film that surprisingly never got a full LP soundtrack release. Mancini must have put out 30 albums in 1965 and 1966 alone. Johnny Mathis issued a vocal version of the theme at the time, though he doesn’t sing the song in the film. Sebesky has great reverence for Mancini’s touch and discusses his arrangement of this song in his 1975 book “The Contemporary Arranger.”

The CTI Records 40th Anniversary Edition of First Light contains a fantastic live version of the title track that runs a full 16-minutes, recorded on 4th March, 1973 in Detroit.

While later Hubbard looked back at his CTI recordings with disdain, Hubbard was known to have thought First Light was one of his favorite albums, and he would often play the title track in live performances well beyond his CTI years.

Also Of Note

The promo release of the First Light album, as seen in the image gallery, is believed to be the last album issued in the US to use the original CTI label layout and design. The original CT 1000 series used the design, with the usual green label and design for the public release, and a white version of the label for Radio station and DJ copies. Although early 6000 series albums followed the same theme, I have a green label copy of Red Clay(6001) Joe Farrell Quartet(6003) and white promo version of Jobim’s Stone Flower(6002), Evans’ Montreaux(6004), Turrebntine’s Sugar (6005) – the traditional gold/brown CTI label had use in use starting with 6004. What was strange about First Light is that it was a green label promo.

Hubert Laws’ The Right Of Spring(CT 6012) used the green labels for a promo version that included a picture and promotional flyer written by Leonard Feather, but the cover and labels were not marked “Promo” or otherwise. Outside of the reissue of Farrell’s Outback(6014) in 1980, I’ve not found a promo copy; and the promo copy of Benson’s White Rabbit(6015) uses a white copy of the traditional CTI label.

Unless you know better(leave a comment or use the contact form), I declare First Light the start of the new era.

The CTI 8000 re-issue, in 1982, used a variation of the Pete Turner cover picture, and include the CTI V3 labels in beige and brown(see image gallery).

Looking for somewhere to start with Hubbard?

You couldn’t do better than get a copy of the 2014, UK label BGO Records Compilation, 2x CD, BGOCD1154 (see image gallery). It is called “RED CLAY / STRAIGHT LIFE / FIRST LIGHT” and features tracks from all three albums.


First Light is sampled in a number of hip-hop tracks.

Direct sample – Souls of Mischief -Anything Can Happen
Multiple elements – Young, Holdt, and Bess Unlimited -Dedicated (Demo Version 2)
Multiple elements – Primeridian – RIng Around the Lyrical

Thanks as always to Doug Payne for his notes during the compilation of this entry.

Doug Payne’s CTI Discography Entry for First Flight

Freddie Hubbard
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: September 14, 1971

collective personnel inc. Freddie Hubbard (tp on d, flhrn); Ray Alonge, James Buffington (frhrn); Wally Kane, Hubert Laws, Romeo Penque (f); George Marge (f,cl); Romeo Penque (cl,oboe,eng hrn); Wally Kane, Jane Taylor (bassoon); Richard Wyands (el-p); George Benson (el-g); Ron Carter (b); Jack DeJohnette (d); Phil Kraus (vib); Airto Moreira (perc); David Nadien, Paul Gershman, Emanuel Green, Harold Kohon, Joe Malin, Gene Orloff, Matthew Raimondi, Tosha Samaroff, Irving Spice (vln); Alfred Brown, Emanuel Vardi (cello); Charles McCracken, George Ricci (cello); Margaret Ross (harp); Don Sebesky (arr,cond).

a. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (Paul & Linda McCartney) – 8:12

Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: September 16, 1971
same or similar.

b. First Light (Freddie Hubbard) – 11:00
c. Moment to Moment (Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer) – 5:40
d. Yesterday’s Dreams (Don Sebesky/Norman Martin) – 4:55
e. Lonely Town (from “On The Town”) (Leonard Bernstein/Comden & Green) – 6:55
f. Polar AC (aka Fantasy In D) (C. Walton) – 6:56

Note: For one additional title on Epic/Legacy (E) 5127902 [CD] and Sony Jazz (E) 5186872 [CD] see IN CONCERT.

Issues: a-e on CTI 6013 (issued October 12, 1971), CTI 8017, CBS Associated ZK 40687 [CD], Sbme Special Markets 724352 [CD], Masterworks Jazz 88697 86729 2 [CD], Epic (Eu) EPC 450562-2 [CD], Epic/Legacy (E) 5127902 [CD], One Way (Br) 532, CTI (Jap) LAX-3242, CTI (Jap) SR-3322, CTI (Jap) GP-3094, CTI (Jap) K20P-6816, CTI (Jap) K32Y-6153 [CD], CTI (Jap) KICJ-8265 [CD], PJL (Jap) MTCJ 4009 [CD]. 
Singles: b (2:35 edit) & d (3:35 edit) also on CTI OJ-9 [45]. 
Samplers: a-e also on Sony Jazz (E) 5186872 [CD] titled RED CLAY / STRAIGHT LIFE / FIRST LIGHT. b also on on CTI 6047 S1, Wounded Bird WOU 6047 [CD], CTI (Jap) GP-3001, CTI (Jap) LAX-3266 titled THE BADDEST HUBBARD, CTI CTS-2 S1 titled FIRE INTO MUSIC, CTI (Can) CTS-2 titled A TASTE OF CTI/KUDU, CBS Associated ZGK 40756 [CD], Epic (Eu) EPC 450567-2 [CD] titled FIRE INTO MUSIC: VOLUME 1, Sony (Fr) 488626-2 [CD] titled FREDDIE HUBBARD – SONY JAZZ COLLECTION, Epic/Legacy ZK 65041 [CD] titled THIS IS JAZZ 25 – FREDDIE HUBBARD, CTI (Jap) KICJ-304 [CD] titled J-WAVE “STILL LIFE” PRESENTS THE GROOVE OF CTI, CTI (Jap) KICJ-2131 [CD] titled THE BEST OF FREDDIE HUBBARD IN THE CTI YEARS, Soul Brother (E) LP SBPJ 10 D, Soul Brother (E) CD SBPJ 10 D [CD] titled FREDDIE HUBBARD ANTHOLOGY – THE SOUL-JAZZ FUSION YEARS: 66-82, Epic/Legacy EK 90689 [CD], Sony Jazz (E) 5164292 [CD] titled JAZZ MOODS – HOT and Masterworks Jazz 88697-76821-2 [CD] titled CTI RECORDS: THE COOL REVOLUTION. b & e also on Epic/Legacy ZK 45481 [CD] titled THE BEST OF FREDDIE HUBBARD. d also on CTI (Jap) GXC-3005/6 titled SEBESKY FANTASY. e also on CTI/Dureco (Du) INT 89.24 titled JAZZ IS ALIVE AND WELL ON CTI AND KUDU, CTI (Jap) KICJ-303 [CD] titled J-WAVE “STILL LIFE” PRESENTS THE MELODY OF CTI. f on CTI 6056 S1, Wounded Bird WOU 6056 [CD], CTI (Jap) LAX-3281, CTI (Jap) GP-3014, PJL (Jap) MTCJ-4019 [CD], CTI (Jap) KICJ-2172 [CD] titled POLAR AC and Sony Music Media (Fr) SMM 517118 2 [CD] titled GUITAR & BASS (as by Ron Carter).
Producer: Creed Taylor
Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder
Notes: Didier C. Deutsch (CBS Associated ZK 40687 [CD], Epic (Eu) EPC 450562-2 [CD]). Takashi Tannaka ( PJL (Jap) MTCJ 4009 [CD]). Didier C. Deutsch (Epic/Legacy (E) 5127902 [CD]).
Jacket: Pete Turner (cover photos). Dean Brown (liner photo). Bob Ciano (design).

More Information

Listen to First Light CD 40th Anniversary Edition [via music.youtube (ad supported)]
Freddie Hubbard GRAMMY nominations [via grammy.com]
First Light – CD Reissue of the Month [via Jazz Station, Arnaldo Desouteiro’s blog]
First Light – Freddie Hubbard [wikipedia entry]
First Light [discogs master listing of releases]
Freddie Hubbard discography [via discogs]
The Contemporary Arranger, Don Sebesky – ISBN 0-88284-032-0 [via google books]
Paul and Linda McCartney – Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey [via youtube video]
Moment to Moment [Movie wikipedia entry]

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