Fats Navarro was a great trumpet player and a very nice person. He practiced all the time. We lived across the street from one another on 114 Street in Harlem. I would come over to visit and there he would be sitting on the edge of the bed in his shorts practicing. I believe that he played a Conn trumpet with a very thin mouthpiece. That's tough to play, but he had a beautiful full tone. So did Freddie Webster. Fats thought highly of Freddie who also died young.
I first got to know Fats at a jam session in Orlanda, Florida. I believe the year was 1941. Fats and I were both from Florida, so I already had heard of him before. He used to play tenor, you know, but then took up the trumpet. Fats was playing with Snookum Russell's band at the time. J.J. Johnson was there too. Fats was very young then, but was already playing very well. Some say that he sounded like Roy Eldridge in those days, but I don't remember that. He always sounded like Fats to me.
I recall seeing Fats on the street about a month before he died. Without thinking I said "Hi, Fats" as I always had. Then, I became embarrassed when I realized how thin he had become. Fats did not seem to notice.
Then, a few weeks later I heard from Art Blakey that Fats was in the hospital. I thought that he could probably use a good home cooked meal. So, I asked the woman I was living with at the time to prepare a plate. Then we headed for the hospital. The hospital was on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island). You had to take a small ferryboat to get to the island. When we got to the hospital, I asked where his room was. When we got to the room, we found it empty. Then we learned that Fats had died eight hours earlier. So, there I was holding Fats' plate of food feeling pretty low. The date was July 7, 1950.