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Article: Fats Navarro: Brief Biography, Contribution to Bebop Genre, Legacy

Fats Navarro: Brief Biography, Contribution to Bebop Genre, Legacy

Fats Navarro: Brief Biography, Contribution to Bebop Genre, Legacy

Fats Navarro entered the history of jazz as one of the founders of the bebop style of the 1940s. His music creations were melodic and beautiful, and his style was characterized by warm tone and improvisations.

Fats Navarro’s Early Years and First Success

Theodore Fats Navarro was born on September 24, 1923, in Key West, Florida. He was bilingual, speaking English and Spanish. As his father, who worked as a barber, had some musical knowledge, he hired a music teacher for little Theodore. Navarro got his first piano lessons at the age of six. Back then, he lacked a serious attitude towards music, however everything changed when he was thirteen and discovered the trumpet.

Fats Navarro trumpeter

Seeing Theodore’s devotion and serious attitude to music, his mother bought him a better-quality instrument. Apart from the trumpet, he also learned how to play a tenor sax. During his high school years, he played in the Walter Johnson’s band in Miami.

Dizzy Gillespie was the musician who inspired Navarro to improvise. Theodore didn’t want to stay in his home place Key West, as he didn’t like it. As soon as he graduated from Frederick Douglass High School, he joined Albright’s his band in Orlando and traveled with them to Cincinnati. Navarro continued to refine his skills as a trumpeter, taking lessons from a teacher in Ohio. Very soon, he joined Russell's group.

Fats Navarro with Dizzy Gillespie

Fats Navarro’s Collaboration With Big Bands

During 1941–1946 Navarro toured with big bands. During his life in the Midwest, he joined Russell's group, known as a “territorial” band in the 1940s, which provided a perfect opportunity for his growth as a musician. It became a place where Theodore could further improve his skills, experiment, and make mistakes. Here he also gained experience of what it was to be a touring musician. During his collaboration with Russell's band, he also met a young J.J. Johnson.

Fats Navarro

Soon, Navarro was invited to join Billy Eckstine’s band, where a few prominent musicians played. While it didn’t provide much space for Navarro’s improvisations, he saw it as a chance to gain more experience.

Navarro also worked with Andy Kirk and his "Clouds of Joy." Generally, Navarro’s presence in big bands was described as lovable, and his horn performance was considered one of the most beautiful aspects.

Fats Navarro and Bebop

During 1946–1948 Navarro switched to bebop after growing tired of touring with big bands. He lived in New York City in 1946, and from this period, his career as a musician started gathering pace. Fats Navarro performed with small groups and musicians such as Kenny Clarke, Coleman Hawkins, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Howard McGhee, and Illinois Jacquet. Navarro even played with well-known Charlie Parker, however none of Parker’s regular groups didn’t fit him as he was interested in a high salary.

Fats Navarro

Instead of collaborating with Parker, Navarro joined the group of pianist Tadd Dameron from New York. With this band, Theodore recorded for Blue Note. Navarro’s collaboration with Dameron is considered the most productive. They had the right chemistry and sympathized one another. Navarro was significantly influenced by Dameron’s lyrical feeling.

As Navarro’s priority was a high salary, he soon founded his own group for studio sessions. However, it was his collaboration with Dameron, mainly recordings and gigs in clubs, which helped Navarro became popular and highly admired by jazz community, fellow musicians and critics.

Fats Navarro’s Dedication to Music

After winning the Metronome Jazz Poll in 1948, Navarro received a chance to join the Metronome Jazz All-Stars for studio recordings. Apart from his active recording activities, he also started to demonstrate his compositional skills. Many of his works were dedicated to Dameron's band, with whom he occasionally continued to play. 

He was on tour with Lionel Hampton's band on route to Chicago, when he fell ill. His illness was diagnosed as tuberculosis. Despite his health condition, Navarro didn’t stop to play. However, combined with the effect of his drug addiction, this serious illness caused a rapid deterioration in his health. The last time when he toured was with the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour in February and March 1949.

Fats Navarro

Navarro’s life cut short by tuberculosis on July 7, 1950, when he was only 26.


Despite his short life, Navarro’s recordings and performances have left a noticeable imprint on the jazz world. Many trumpeters mention him as a major influence. His stylistic influence is evident in the works of Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan.

In our blog you can find more articles devoted to jazz musicians, including Ibrahim Maalouf, Allen Vizzutti, Harry James, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard and others.

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