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An Original and Expressive BassistCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1999
Hopkins, FredFred Hopkins was one of the most important players on his instrument in contemporary American jazz. He played a major role in the development of the avant-garde movement in Chicago, and subsequently extended his reputation after moving to New York in 1975. He returned to live in his native city in 1997, and died in the University of Chicago Hospital from a heart-related condition.
Hopkins grew up in Chicago's South Side, and learned to play bass at school (his initial interest lay in the cello, inspired by hearing a Pablo Casals recording, but double bass was the only instrument available at the time). He was tutored by the famous educator Captain Walter Dyett, whose music programme at the city's Du Sable High School nurtured a number of significant jazz talents, including Nat "King" Cole and Johnny Griffin.
Hopkins also trained with the Civic Orchestra in the city, and later studied bass with Joseph Guastafeste of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In the late 1960s, he became involved with the radical improvising musicians of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music, which included notable avant-garde figures like Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Hopkins played with Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre for a time, but formed his most significant association in a trio with saxophonist Henry Threadgill and the late Steve McCall on drums.
He moved to New York in 1975, and was subsequently joined there by Threadgill and McCall. They formed the trio Air, and recorded a number of important records under that name, and subsequently as New Air, with Pheeroan AkLaff taking over from McCall. He remained an integral part of Threadgill's Sextett after the dissolution of the trio, and also worked with leading figures like Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Don Pullen, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, and saxophonist David Murray.
Hopkins built the free-spirited creativity of his jazz playing on a solid foundation of classical technique, and evolved a highly original and expressive approach to the instrument. After his return to his native city in 1997, he formed his own band for the first time in his career, and also worked with trumpeter Rob Mazurek's Chicago Underground Orchestra.