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Popular Music History Series Editor: Alyn Shipton, Royal Academy of Music, London, and City University, London

This series publishes books that challenge established orthodoxies in popular music studies, examine the formation and dissolution of canons, interrogate histories of genres, focus on previously neglected forms, or engage in archae- ologies of popular music.

Published Handful of Keys: Conversations with Thirty Jazz Pianists Alyn Shipton The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis, 1980–1991 George Cole Jazz Visions: Lennie Tristano and His Legacy Peter Ind Chasin’ the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker Brian Priestley Out of the Long Dark: The Life of Ian Carr Alyn Shipton Lee Morgan: His Life, Music and Culture Tom Perchard Being Prez: The Life and Music of Lester Young Dave Gelly Lionel Richie: Hello Sharon Davis Soul Unsung: Reflections on the Band in Black Popular Music Kevin Le Gendre Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: A History of British Jazz,


Duncan Heining

Forthcoming Gone in the Air: The Life and Music of Eric Dolphy Brian Morton In Search of Fela Anikulapo Kuti Max Reinhardt and Rita Ray An Unholy Row: British Jazz, 1945–1960 Dave Gelly Jazz Me Blues: The Autobiography of Chris Barber Chris Barber with Alyn Shipton

Mr P.C.

The Life and Music of Paul Chambers

rob Palmer

Published by Equinox Publishing Ltd.

UK: Unit S3, Kelham House, 3 Lancaster Street, Sheffield S3 8AF USA: ISD, 70 Enterprise Drive, Bristol, CT 06010

First published 2012

© Rob Palmer 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, record- ing or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers.

ISBN: 978-1-84553-636-7 (hardback)

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Palmer, Rob. Mr P.C.: the life and music of Paul Chambers/Rob Palmer. p. cm.—(Popular music history) Includes bibliographical references, discography, and index. ISBN 978-1-84553-636-7

1. Chambers, Paul, 1935–1969. 2. Double bassists—Biography. 3. Jazz musicians— Biography. I. Title. ML418.C56P35 2012




Typeset by S.J.I. Services, New Delhi Printed and bound by Lightning Source UK Ltd., Milton Keynes







Motor City Scene



New York, the Jazz Corner of the World



Chambers’s Music



Workin’ with Miles



Bass on Top






Blue Steps



Sketches and Beyond



After Miles



Big Paul












Call him Ishmael if you want but he answered to Charlie. Nobody called him Ishmael.


Everyone knows that, when writing a large work of any kind, it is important to keep a note of your sources as you go as finding the academic references for the information you have included in your work later on is all but impossible. What I didn’t know is that the same is necessary of your sources for every other aspect of your research. Some of the sources I have called upon in this piece are obvious but others are far harder to recall years after the fact. I have tried to include everyone who has provided time, energy and support but there is this nagging feeling that I have forgotten someone important. My first thanks go to Sang-Bum Shim, author of a 1999 thesis entitled “Paul Chambers: His Life and Music”, submitted to the Graduate School – Newark, Rutger’s, The State University of New Jersey in partial fulfilment of require- ments for the degree of Master of Arts Graduate Program in Jazz History and Research. I had already started my work before I was given a copy of Sang’s thesis but it helped point me in some different directions and clarified some early confusion. I need also to thank Jim Gallert, co-author of Before Motown:

A History of Jazz in Detroit 1920–1960, for his generosity and faith, for giv- ing me some local intelligence in Detroit and for starting some balls rolling. Jazz writer and photographer Val Wilmer deserves a mention, not only for her particularly special photographs, but for the invaluable help she gave in putting me in touch with people, places and resources I would otherwise have missed to the detriment of the finished work. As a long-standing fan of Val’s own writing and photography, this was particularly exciting for me. Thanks also to Paolo Benedettini for the unsolicited offer of copies of his interviews with Benny Golson, Buster Williams and Jimmy Cobb (and for showing his integrity with the material I gave him to help him with his own thesis). And to Brian Hennessey of the Welsh Jazz Society, whose friendship with Bill Evans (and ever-growing archive to the pianist’s memory) is a matter of record. His fresh-sounding, Motian-influenced drumming is less well known, however, and it was always a rare but welcome pleasure playing with him. Thanks to


David Nathan, National Jazz Archive, UK, for the enthusiasm, support and copies of Downbeat that he made available; to Valerie Bishop, wife of the late Walter Bishop Jr, for sharing her own experiences and for brokering those of a reluctant third party; to Ron Carter for a wonderfully good-natured and positive interview – a true gentleman; to Jimmy Cobb and Eleana Tee for taking the time to speak to me and to drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath and bass player and educator Chris White for sharing what little they had; to Dorismarie Welcher for her letters, her passion and her copy of Sang’s thesis, and to Paul’s childhood friend, Ernie Rodgers, for his fifty-six- (or more) year- old memories. Special thanks to Brian Dee – piano, Vic Ash – saxophone and, most of all, Malcolm Cecil – bass, all of whom shared a coach with the Miles Davis Quintet in September 1960 and willingly shared their memories of those few short days; to William Bennett, bass player and cousin of Ann Chambers, who spent many hours with Paul Chambers and Wynton Kelly in their last years, when time allowed, and for ensuring the safety of Paul’s bass after his death; to Ben Wolfe and Christian McBride for sharing their passion for the work of Paul Chambers and to pianist Joanne Brackeen and singer Lee Shaw for sharing the few moments they had with Paul Chambers. Thanks also to Mel Dancey (and his long-suffering but ever cheerful partner, who took far more of my calls than Mel did) and percussionist Randy Kaye who gave freely of his memories and who we already miss. To Gillespie pia - nist Mike Longo, who remembered more than most. To Noal Cohen and Bill Charborne for their help in accessing some hard-to-find Wynton Kelly Trio recordings. Peter Symes, Cynthia Sesso, Ken Vail, Brian Foskett, George Schuller, Scott Fowler and a string of others too many to list for helping with the photographs. A special thanks goes out to Mike Clifford from Cambridge University for his alchemical work in restoring some very old photographs. Mike is also a great saxophonist and I had been playing with him regularly for a year before I learned he was in photography. I guess it was meant to be! To Alyn Shipton, Valerie Hall and Janet Joyce at Equinox Publishing. Phil Smith; thanks for the lead, Phil. To writer and exceptional jazz pianist Chris Ingham for always making me sound better than I am and for ensuring that I never had to experience rejection by a publisher. If I have forgotten anyone, and I don’t doubt that I have, I apologize and ask your forgiveness. Profound and heartfelt thanks to Ann Chambers Chandler and Pierre Chambers, for the trust that they have showed and, particularly, to Pierre for putting up with years of emails from that irritating bloke from the UK. To Stanley, Jack, Daisy Mae, Dylan, Zachary and Evil Ted who never fail to take me out of myself (and sometimes just take me out). And, finally, with love to Carmel, who, as always, sacrificed the most.



Miles Davis, Relaxin’ Miles Davis, ’Round about Midnight Miles Davis, Miles Ahead Miles Davis, Porgy and Bess Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain Miles Davis, Milestones Miles Davis, Kind of Blue John Coltrane, Blue Train John Coltrane, Giant Steps Jackie McLean, Capuchin Swing Hank Mobley, Soul Station Hank Mobley, Workout Sonny Clark, Cool Struttin’ Wynton Kelly, Kelly at Midnite Joe Henderson, Four Oliver Nelson, Blues and the Abstract Truth Wes Montgomery, Full House Wes Montgomery, Smokin’ at the Half Note Art Pepper, Meets the Rhythm Section Sonny Rollins, Tenor Madness

The above list could easily be representative of every interested forty-something’s top twenty favourite jazz albums; a panoply of hard-bop, be-bop, orchestral and modal jazz. There will be very few genuine jazz enthusiasts who do not own at least a small handful of the recordings mentioned above and there are more than a few that will have all of them on their shelves at home. The list incorpo- rates some of the most listened-to and talked-about jazz of the 1950s and ’60s, if not of the history of the idiom itself. Kind of Blue is one of, if not the, best- selling jazz albums of all time (depending on your definition of jazz), with sales of the numerous re-issues and re-mixes reportedly exceeding the three million

mark. It was the most commercially successful recording of Miles Davis’s career. Although many precedents had earlier provided the opportunity for players and listeners alike to explore the potential of this particular sub-genre, it is this Miles Davis classic that is often credited as introducing the concept of modal playing into the mainstream field of jazz. “Giant Steps”, the title track of the second of Coltrane’s three celebrated masterpieces (the first being “Blue Train” and the third “A Love Supreme”) is a further example of ground-breaking innovation in the field of jazz music, albeit of a very different kind. This recording, while involving more than one of Miles Davis’s sidemen from Kind of Blue, was, in Alyn Shipton’s words, “the antithesis of simplicity”. 1 While occasionally acknowledged as the pinnacle of expression in terms of melodic invention around the use of complex forms, this track, at the very least, drew the music community’s attention to a specific and demanding sequence of chords that is still referred to by musicians as “Giant Steps changes”, despite the fact that the sequence had been heard before in more than one setting. Even today, in many circles, a musician’s ability to negotiate these particular changes freely and creatively is considered a fundamental measure of competence. It is not widely known that the recording sessions that produced Kind of Blue and Giant Steps were undertaken within a matter of weeks; Miles entered the CBS recording studio on Thirtieth Street, New York, on 2 March 1959, with some small scraps of paper on which he had scribbled the material that was to become part of Kind of Blue while most of the material on Coltrane’s Giant Steps was recorded on 4 and 5 May 1959, around eight weeks later 2 (although earlier sessions that featured the material Coltrane had prepared for that LP were under way by 1 April). There were several other classic recordings that took place during the early months of 1959 and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that, creatively speaking, the spring of that year could be described as a fertile period in jazz history. Miles Davis’s recordings of the material for the Columbia LPs Sketches of Spain (1959 and 1960) and Porgy and Bess (1960), both orchestrated by composer/arranger Gil Evans, are still two of his best-loved works, even amongst less committed jazz fans. The origins of these two works, neither of which was originally conceived as “jazz” in any conventional sense, both benefit from what could be considered an informal relationship with mainstream popular culture. For the layman, this allows each piece a degree of familiarity that, in turn, renders the Davis/Evans versions exotic and interesting rather than alien and inaccessible. At the time of his Tenor Madness recording in 1956, Sonny Rollins was considered to be one of the most respected tenor saxophonists in jazz. His reputation as one of the idiom’s most advanced thematic improvisers was all but unassailable. His status amongst jazz musicians was, and remains, legendary and his periodic withdrawals from live performances (1959 to 1961 and 1969 to 1971) leave little doubt that Rollins was one of the most

uncompromising performers recording at that time and “a man of unques- tioned artistic courage”. 3 The music recorded on Tenor Madness pays testimony to his reputation and provides evidence of his talent. The recording of Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, another classic album from the period, took place shortly after Pepper’s release from prison in 1957. It is interesting to note that the publicity department at Contemporary Records, the producers of Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, saw fit to package Pepper’s post-sentence “re-launch” (one of several) on the basis that he had been teamed up with the rhythm section of the day and not just a rhythm section. The fact that this release was marketed on the basis that Pepper’s improvisations were accompanied by the personnel that the great Miles Davis was then using as his rhythm section is testimony to the esteem with which these three musicians were held at that time. It is apparent, from his biography, that Pepper was thrilled at being afforded the opportunity to record with what was generally agreed to be the greatest rhythm section of its day. His delight at the quality of the music produced during the session and subsequently released is also a matter of record. Among the albums listed above, we can hear the work of at least five trumpet players, around eight saxophonists, six pianists and at least five drummers. The list, however, represents the work of just one bass player. What makes this list of iconic jazz recordings special is that it amounts to only a tiny part of the immense discography of the work of a single man: the double-bass player Paul Chambers, the young musician who inspired Coltrane to write his legendary minor blues, the evergreen jam session staple, “Mr P.C.”, Red Garland to pen “The P.C. Blues” and Tommy Flanagan to compose his own “Big Paul”. Chambers recorded over 300 LPs for record labels as varied as Columbia, Riverside, Blue Note, Savoy, VeeJay, United Artists, Prestige and Impulse. He played with almost every great instrumentalist from the mid-fifties to the late sixties, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Stanley Turrentine, Johnny Griffin, Wayne Shorter, Clark Terry, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Art Blakey, Jimmy Cobb, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Roy Haynes and Paul Motian. The list is extensive. Chambers played bass on some of the top-selling jazz albums in the history of the music and contributed significantly to some of the most critically acclaimed and historically important LPs of all time. As one critic said: “Even when you couldn’t hear Paul Chambers, … it was clear that everything was built around him”. 4 Like many bass players in the history of this music, Paul Chambers has often gone unnoticed in the discussions around these recordings, the emphasis remaining on the so-called front-line players like Davis, Coltrane, Rollins and Monk. The purpose of this book is to pay homage to the unsung heroes of jazz, its bass players, and to specifically explore the life of and contributions made to this most noble of musics by the quiet legend that is Paul Chambers.

1 Motor City Scene

Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 22 April 1935. His grandfather, Elmo Chambers, had been born in Virginia in 1875 but had moved to Pennsylvania sometime before 1894. Elmo, a “fair skinned man, almost white looking”, was described by one of his sons as “very strong and mean”. 1 Paul Chambers’s wife, Ann Chandler, later confirmed Elmo’s reputation: “Everybody used to talk about how afraid of him they were … because grandfather didn’t allow [the children] to get away with a lot”. 2 The 1910 census records Elmo’s occupation as “janitor” 3 although subsequent census documents list his employers as the church and a library. The family were then living on St John’s Street in the Allegheny County of Pennsylvania. Elmo’s wife, Alice Burrows, also born in 1874, was “an African American and Native American … very dark and beautiful”. 4 Elmo and Alice had married in 1896, when they were both twenty-two years old. The couple’s most lasting legacy to the world was the production of their nine children. Mabel, the eldest, was born in 1899, followed by Floyd (b. 1902), Edith (b. 1904), Louis (b. 1905), Louise (b. 1908), Elsie (b. 1909), Walter (b. 1912), Paul (b. 1913) and, finally, named after her mother and Elmo’s wife, Alice (b. 1915). Despite their apparently lowly status, Elmo and Alice clearly had some education as their seventh child, and fourth son, Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers, was named after the turn-of-the-century poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose work was noted for its use of local dialect (although Dunbar was reportedly a little frustrated at the fact that many of his editors favoured this aspect of his work at the expense of his more conventional output). 5 Whatever the poet’s merits, the fact that the fourth of the Chambers boys was named after such a literary figure was testament to the knowledge and sensi- bilities of Elmo Chambers and his wife. Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers Sr has his birth-date listed as 31 December 1913, New Year’s Eve, long after the family had moved to Pittsburgh.

At the time of the 1920 census, the Chambers family lived in rented accommodation still in Allegheny County; the area was ethnically mixed, the census document listing the family’s immediate neighbours as Italian, Polish and Lithuanian. It is interesting to note the number of people living at some of the addresses listed (13 people are listed in the home of the Italian family that lived next door) so the size of the Chambers household clearly wasn’t that unusual. By the time of the 1920 census, Elmo, listed formally as the “head” of the family, was, sadly, already widowed. While it is known that his wife passed away between 1910 and 1920, the actual date of Alice’s death is not known. Very little is known about Alice Chambers (née Burrows), other than the fact that she, too, hailed from Virginia and that she “died at an early age”. 6 Despite their shortcomings, the census documents from this era offer a fascinating sociological insight into the issues of the day, giving information that may not otherwise have become available. Elmo Chambers, for instance, could read and write, as could his daughters Elsie and Louise. Interestingly, however, as is made clear in the 1920 census document, Edith, then sixteen years old, is listed as being unable to read or write. The document also tells us that Edith did not attend school, unlike all of her siblings (Alice, Paul and Walter were not listed as literate but this may have been due to their respective ages of five, seven and eight years). 7 It is possible that Alice’s premature death may have resulted in the need for the older daughter to take on the role of mother to their younger siblings, thereby interrupting her education but this is pure speculation. The 1930 census shows the family as having moved to Kirkpatrick Street, with only Paul (seventeen) and Alice (sixteen) still living at home. Elmo’s fourth son, Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers Sr, married Margaret Eccles, a Pittsburgh seamstress who loved music. Margaret was the daughter of Earl Eccles and his wife, Ella Chriswell. Like Paul Chambers Sr, she is also listed as having been born in 1913, not only in the same year as her husband but her birth-date, New Year’s Eve, made her exactly the same age. The similarities in dates are interesting but not definitive. Census documents produced during this period in US history are notoriously unreliable and their contents should be treated with some degree of scepticism. The prevalence of birth-dates of 31 December is particularly notable and their accuracy highly suspect, the suspicion being that this was used as a default date in the event that the specific birth-date of an individual was not known. Family members would describe Margaret as “a very beautiful woman that fell in love with the football star in her town. That was a big mistake”. 8 Ann Chandler would later recall: “I know he went to college and played football in Pittsburgh, but when I met Mr Chambers [Sr] they were all here [in Detroit] … Mr Chambers was a bus driver, city bus driver”. 9 In describing Paul Chambers Sr, one of his grandchildren, Pierre, acknowledged that he and his siblings

did have a relationship with him but it was not a good one. He was a difficult man to know and get along with. I don’t have any good memories related to him. I know my father [Paul Chambers Jr] did not get along with him very well. They had a difficult relationship as well. He was not a pleasant man. 10

Pierre’s observations were supported by a childhood acquaintance of his father’s. When interviewed, Detroit pianist Charles Boles, who knew Paul Chambers Jr back in 1948, offered this unsolicited observation: “I didn’t hang out with Paul a lot although we ate lunch together many times at school and it appears that Paul had a very tough childhood being raised by a mean spirited father”. 11 Another family member, Ann Chandler’s cousin William Bennett, would later recall that several of Chambers’s later colleagues, including pianist Wynton Kelly, had, on at least one occasion, met Chambers’s father, but their memory of the meeting wasn’t a warm one and the individuals present didn’t take to him at all. 12 Ann Chandler would later recollect some details of her late husband’s childhood, some experiences and relationships that were a little more positive:

Stanley [Turrentine]’s from Pittsburgh. They were friends. I heard him teasing; they were telling me that they used to call Paul “String Bean” when he was a kid. His nickname was “Cookie”. From knowing Paul, it must have been his love for cookies. All of his father’s people called him “Cookie”. But all his friends, I think, like Stanley Turrentine, they called him “String Bean”. How he got that, I don’t know. When I first met Stanley, they were both in New York, around the time Paul started to play in Miles Davis’s band. 13

Chambers’s early nickname was confirmed by Jimmy Cobb in a 1999 interview with Shim:

The people up there (in Pittsburgh) called him “Cookie”; “Cookie Chambers”. That’s probably before he started to play the bass or any of that stuff. But I didn’t find that out until we worked up there one time in Crawford’s Grill and one of the old guys came up and said “Cookie” and I said “Oh! Cookie”. 14

Paul’s early introduction to music came about almost accidentally when, in his own words, at around ten years of age, an unusual opportunity presented itself. “A man came to the school to pick ten pupils to take up music. I happened to be one of the ten”. 15 Chambers told a slightly different story to Val Wilmer in 1961:

This may seem crazy to you but when I was in Sixth Grade waiting to go to Junior High, we were all of us kids sitting in a room and the tables were set aside for different subjects. It happened by mistake that I was sitting at the table for music, and that’s how it started. Plus, my mother was very musical. 16

Ann Chandler at least acknowledged that last remark: “… his mother knew a lot of musicians and things”. 17 Whichever way events transpired, this opportunity resulted in Paul choosing to learn the baritone saxophone, followed closely by the tuba. In fact, Paul Chambers actually played his first gigs in Detroit on the horn and tuba. Chambers expressed contradictory feelings towards the tuba: he liked [the instrument] “but it hurt [his] shoulder”; 18 “I got along pretty well, but it’s quite a job to carry it around in those long parades and I didn’t like the instrument that much”. 19 Ann Chandler recalls that Chambers “may have started tuba in Pittsburgh”, prior to his move to Detroit. Either way, Chambers was quickly showing an early propensity towards instruments in the lower sonic register. Following the death of his mother in January 1949, reportedly from spinal meningitis, 20 Chambers moved to live with his father, Paul Chambers Sr, who had, by now, moved to Detroit, and Paul Sr’s wife, Florence Chambers. Detroit has a rich and extensive heritage when it comes to the performance of jazz although, while commentators often make much of the kismet that surrounds the chance meetings of groups of musicians and question the contribution that the chemistry between different individuals has on their development as musicians (what would have become of John Lennon had he not grown up around the corner from Paul McCartney?), had he not left Pittsburgh when he did, it seems likely that Chambers would still have grown into the musician he became. During the years in which he developed his musical skills in Detroit, Pittsburgh had its own thriving music scene, a scene that gave us, amongst others, drummers Art Blakey (1919–1990) and Kenny Clarke (1914–1985), and pianists Erroll Garner (1921–1977) and Ahmad Jamal (b. 1930). The early friendship between Chambers and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine (1934–2000) has already been mentioned but Pittsburgh also gave us, not surprisingly, Turrentine’s trumpet-playing older brother Tommy (1928–1977), who shared Chambers’s birthday of 22 April. Another trumpet-playing legend, the acknowledged link between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, (David) Roy “Little Jazz” Eldridge (1911–1989), was also from Pittsburgh, as were arranger, composer and trumpeter Billy May (1916–2004), singer Billy Eckstine (1914–1993), bass players Eddie Safranski (1918–1974) and Ray Brown (1926–2002), tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper (1925–1993), guitarist George Benson (b. 1943) and arranger, composer and trombone player Sammy Nestico (b. 1924). Arranger, composer and pianist Billy Strayhorn (1915–1967), most famous for his contributions to the pad

Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers Jr aged between thirteen and fifteen, with Paul’s stepmother Florence Chambers

Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers Jr aged between thirteen and fifteen, with Paul’s stepmother Florence Chambers (second from the left), Paul Sr (far right) and an unknown female friend (photograph courtesy of the Chambers family archive).

and to the history of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, also spent a significant part of his youth in Pittsburgh. No doubt the move to Detroit would prove extremely significant for Chambers’s personal development as a musician but the evidence suggests that he would have found his way into the illustrious company he later kept even if the tragic death of his mother had not precipi- tated that move. Upon his arrival in Detroit, Chambers first attended the Northern High School, an establishment as famous for its musicians as Chambers’s ultimate destination, Cass Tech. It was here that he met pianist Charles Boles:

I met Paul Chamber in 1948 at Northern High School. He and

I were in the jazz band together. He was only at Northern High

School [one] year. Also in that band was Donald Byrd, Sonny Red, Claude Black playing trombone who later switched to piano because of health reasons. This school was a great training ground for Musicians because everyday there was a jam session during the 7th hour including Tommy Flanagan, Bess Bonnier [and] Roland Hannah. 21

Around 1949, Chambers at last gravitated towards the instrument that would make him famous: the double bass. It is not wholly clear whether his taking up the instrument preceded his forced move to Detroit or not. Bass

player Sonny Dallas, who would perform with, among others, pianist Lennie Tristano, later reported that his own teacher, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra principal bassist Herman Clements, also taught a young Paul Chambers (and, reportedly, Ray Brown). If this was the case, it would have had to pre-date his move to Detroit. Chambers himself reported that he was still only fourteen years old when he took up the instrument. As is often the case with early learners, the move came about when his school band needed a bassist. Soon after this, at around age fifteen, as his studies made him increas- ingly aware of the role of his chosen instrument in the jazz music he loved, Chambers started listening to the musical innovations commonly credited to alto saxophone player Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie and pianist Bud Powell. Other bass players whose work he absorbed included Oscar Pettiford and Ray Brown, both of whom he credited as his early influences. An early mentor, Brown wasn’t just an idol that Chambers admired from a distance. Ann Chandler describes the special relationship that Chambers shared with Brown: “Ray Brown came here [Ann’s mother’s house]. He and Paul practiced together back then. When Ray Brown was playing in Detroit, Paul must have gone and heard him and invited him over to the house to practice”. 22 The impact that this face-to-face contact would have had on the developing musician would have been enormous and it is apparent that Chambers benefited from the meetings. The older man’s encouragement would later pay dividends in return when, many years later, during a flight to Europe that was carrying both the Miles Davis Quintet and the Oscar Peterson Trio, Brown’s regular gig, the older man’s bass was critically damaged in transit and its neck was broken. To Brown’s undoubted relief, Chambers loaned his mentor his own bass so that he could make the gig. Later in his career, during his early days in New York, Chambers would also develop a friendship with his other early influence, Oscar Pettiford. In terms of other influences on Chambers, Brown and Pettiford were quickly followed by Percy Heath, Milt Hinton and Ellington bass player Wendell Marshall, all of whom Chambers specifically rated for the quality of their rhythm section work. Chambers later expressed further admiration for Charles Mingus and George Duvivier, both of whom he particularly credited for their innovations and technical prowess and for their efforts to broaden the scope of their shared instrument. Fundamentally, however, renowned Ellington bassist Jimmy Blanton was Chambers’s all-time favourite musician. Jimmy Blanton was born in October 1918 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He played in the local area with groups led by his pianist mother and attended the Tennessee State College for a short period before moving, in the late 1930s, to Miles Davis’s home town of St Louis. At around this time in his career, Blanton was already playing with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra and in pianist Fate Marable’s riverboat bands. It was during this period, in 1939, when the twenty-one-year-old was noticed by Duke Ellington. Ellington recognized

immediately the potential of the young bass player and immediately signed him up for his orchestra (despite the fact that he already had a bass player in the form of Billy Taylor). Blanton’s contribution to the Ellington sound was immediate and he is credited with stabilizing the rhythm section and providing the orchestra with considerable swing. Ellington was also composing arguably some of his best tunes at around the time of Blanton’s arrival, tunes such as “Ko-Ko” and “Concerto for Cootie”. The recordings available from this era evidence the substantive contribution that Blanton was making to the Ellington sound. On the wider scene, Blanton was also contributing to some of the informal jam sessions out of which would grow the be-bop movement. By that time, however, Blanton’s playing had become inconsistent and, on 30 July 1942, two months and twenty-two days after entering a sanatorium in California, Blanton died from pulmonary tuberculosis. The high-profile element of Jimmy Blanton’s career lasted barely three years but, during that brief period, his recorded legacy served to change the direction in which the double bass was headed and to create a template on which other innovations, such as those of Ray Brown, Charles Mingus and Scott LaFaro, could be built. Blanton is credited as being the first bass player to liberate his instrument from the purely mechanistic role it had held for so long. J. Bradford Robinson argues that Blanton

possessed great dexterity and range, roundness of tone, accurate intonation, and above all an unprecedented sense of swing. His strong feeling for harmony led him to incorporate many non-harmonic passing notes in his accompaniment lines, giving them a contrapuntal flavour and stimulating soloists to their own harmonic explorations. Blanton also contributed to the earliest fully satisfying jazz solos on this instrument, which depart in their inventive melody and flexible rhythms from the walking bass style that was then prevalent. 23

In short, Blanton would redefine his instrument’s potential in the same way that Lester Young, in a musical world created in the image of Coleman Hawkins, had redefined the tenor saxophone. For the bass aficionado, the “must-have” recordings of this talented but tragic figure would be the famous duets Blanton recorded with Ellington in 1940, although any of the other 130 or so recordings he made with Ellington provide hours of stimulating listening. Chambers’s admiration of Blanton was voiced in his 1956 interview with Nat Hentoff for the French Jazz Hot magazine. Here, Chambers acknowl- edged that it was Blanton who opened the field for the bass in a jazz context. He made it clear that he wished to take the innovations of Blanton forward. Regrettably, the two men would, in the end, have more in common than the double bass, with sad parallels between Blanton’s tragic life and early death and the life path and experiences of Paul Chambers.

Ann Chandler recalls Chambers’s early obsession with his new-found friend, the double bass:

He had been going to Northern High. I was going to Cass Tech. Paul came into Cass. But you had to have a high average – at least a B average, to get into Cass. And Paul didn’t like doing his homework, and in school period, he just was learning the bass. 24

There is no record of when or where Chambers bought his first bass but it is known that he was a regular visitor to a Detroit bass shop.

The bass shop was owned by an old guy who used to be called “Jesus” by the local bassists in the black neighbourhood. He stocked many great basses no one could afford at that time. They were selling for $200 plus in ’50s. (1950s dollars – nowadays that would be $20,000 for same instrument). 25 No one could afford those basses in those days, so they would say to him: “Jesus! I can’t afford that”!! And he would lend the basses out too and [also offered] time payments. Paul, Doug & Al all bought basses from him, including Paul’s “lady angel head bass” [sic]. 26

There is another oft-repeated story in which Chambers came by his bass by less legitimate means. It has been reported that the bass was seen in a parked car and that Chambers had, with help, taken the bass from the car. Legend has it that the owner of the bass saw Chambers playing the bass with Miles Davis some years later and was so impressed that, although he made himself known, because of the young man’s evident talents on the instrument he allowed Chambers to keep the bass. The story of this theft, however, appears to be apocryphal and there is absolutely no evidence available to substantiate it. Chambers’s early lessons took place within the Detroit school system. He attended Cass Tech, on and off from 1952 to 1955, and played in Cass’s own symphony orchestra. “While attending Cass Tech … [Chambers] studied with the leading bass player in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO). This gave him a thorough grounding in classical technique and helped to develop his sumptuous sound and near perfect intonation”. 27 The identity of the teacher in question was later confirmed as Michael Bistritsky by another former student at Cass Tech, bass player Ron Carter. Bistritsky was both a bass player and orchestra director and there is little doubt that he had some contribution in fostering the enthusiasm that the young Chambers was showing towards the double bass. In reality, the question of who taught Chambers is more complex. Bistritsky had a teaching role at Cass and no doubt had significant input into Chambers’s learning and into his role in the Cass Tech orchestra but, when Bistritsky was presented with a student who showed promise, he routinely made a recommendation for study with a bass player from the DSO.

The identity of the musician with whom Chambers studied, therefore, was not Bistritsky but Gaston Brohan. 28 It was while Brohan was second bassist with the orchestra, from 1952 to 1955, that Chambers studied with him. In an interview with Nat Hentoff for Jazz Hot (1956), Chambers made a brief reference to Brohan, explaining that he had studied with him until he left for New York in 1955. No mention was made in this interview of Herman Clements, the Pittsburgh Symphony bassist referred to as an early teacher by Sonny Dallas. In Hentoff’s interview, Chambers acknowledged the positive contribution that Brohan’s input had on his playing. 29 While there is no substantive record of Chambers’s studies with Brohan, another Detroit bassist, Dan Pliskow, has vivid memories of his experiences under the same man, although his memories are not fond:

I began studying music in Detroit at Wayne University In 1953 and quickly realized that the classical faculty of the Music Department hated Jazz and anyone who played it. The only professor who gave me the time of day was the Associate Conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Valter Poole, who conducted the Wayne Symphony Orchestra. He often talked to me about the days he used to play trombone in the bars and wanted to know about what the Jazz Scene in Detroit was like. I signed up for classical String Bass lessons and was assigned to Gaston Brohan, a Detroit Symphony Bassist. Because I had played cello for ten years, I naturally gravitated to the French Bow when playing bass so when I walked into my first lesson with Mr. Brohan, he took one look at my bow and said he would not teach me unless I played German bow and told me to get out. I went back to the Music Department and when I told them what he said, they told me to wait a day until they called to advise him that he had to teach me the French bow and re-schedule my lesson. I called a few days later and he was furious but made an appointment with me and it was later I heard that there was an ongoing battle in the Detroit Symphony bass section between the German and French Bow players. As I took my lessons each week from Brohan he would stand behind me with a ruler and when my left elbow would drop or my thumb would move he would smack me with it. At the end of the semester I asked to change bass teachers, began taking lessons from Walter Hardman and we got along just fine. In addition to being a Detroit Symphony player he did some jobbing and often asked me questions about why the jobbing leaders he worked for asked him to make the notes ring instead of cutting them off short like the Symphony players did. He really helped my playing a lot. I found [Brohan to be] a stern teacher with no sense of humour and perhaps because it is fifty-three years ago, a little hazy. He had me playing only out of

Simandl Book 1 for a year and [I] don’t remember him telling me anything about bowing hand position or shifting, intonation or much of anything. I just stood there and sawed away. 30

It would appear that Brohan was a hard taskmaster and it is testimony to Chambers’s tenacity that he was able to remain with this particular teacher for so long. Alternatively, it is simply testimony to the fact that Chambers preferred to use Brohan’s favoured German bow, thus managing not to antagonize his teacher or threaten the sanctity of his prejudices. Brohan died in July 1968, aged seventy-seven. Unlike the more challenging Brohan, Michael Bistritsky was more fondly remembered, at least by others. He died on 26 January 2001, aged a remarkable 102 years. A memorial concert, arranged by violist Cathy Compton of the Detroit Symphony and held in June of that year, saw Cass Tech graduates travelling from all over the United States to perform in his honour. Chambers was already putting in considerable amounts of time into his instrument around this time, around eight to twelve hours a day, a fact that was later confirmed by Doug Watkins. Chambers apparently continued to put in at least four hours’ practice a day even when working as a busy professional at the top of his game. His days at Cass Tech were particularly productive for the young bassist, as Chambers himself told Val Wilmer in an interview in


The curriculum took up a whole day of music. That’s why it took

a couple more years to graduate. For example, we’d have the first

period chamber music, second period full orchestra, third either harmony or counterpoint and rudiments; then came piano and the academic classes … I used to get together with Doug [Watkins], Donald Byrd and piano player Hugh Lawson in rest periods and we’d play … I was working nights with Kenny Burrell … a very nice group with Yusef Lateef and Hindal Butts on drums. 31

Tommy Flanagan remembers:

I finished High School in 1948. I met Paul around that time …

There’s a pianist; his parents were not home during the day time. They were both working. And we used to have sessions there; we used to jam. That would be Hugh Lawson, Hugh Lawson the pianist. We used to go by, and be at his house, and we’d have sessions … we didn’t play that long, that late, you know, because his parents would be coming home and … they wanted to relax. They didn’t want the noise and [a] house full of energetic young people, you know … yeah, we’d finish up maybe around 6 or 7 … we’re listening to it, it was the beginning of what we thought was the most advanced music at that time, which would be Charlie

Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He [Chambers] had a lot of facility for

a young guy … he was pretty advanced for his age … Even though

he was very talented when he was young, he hadn’t developed into

a kind of voice yet. 32

The success of Cass Tech as a breeding ground for artists is a matter of record. In addition to Chambers, Donald Byrd, Doug Watkins and their contempo- raries, other Cass alumni, over the years, would include jazz pianists Geri Allen and Sir Roland Hanna, bassist Al McKibbon (one of at least three Cass Tech alumni who would go on to play bass with the legendary Miles Davis), violinist Regina Carter, tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray and singer Diana Ross. Ann Chandler recalls:

At that time, Cass Tech was the best school in the city. It’s in a big, old, raggedy building. It was six floors to it. I think it was the only school that had like six floors to it and elevators. They had the best teachers. And it had to be a good school if it was a college prep school. If you could check back now to some of the people that have businesses, that are well known designers and architects and things, you would find that a lot of them went to Cass Tech in the 40s and 50s. 33

Tommy Flanagan agreed: “Cass Tech was a vocational High School, so, if you wanted to specialize in music, that was the place to go”. 34 In her interview with Shim, Ann Chandler went on to describe the ethos that operated within the musical community in Detroit: “I know there was always a great love for one another: [they] knew each other and loved each other”. 35 As has already been intimated, the music played at Cass did not begin and end with jazz: “[Paul loved] of all kinds of music, especially classical music. He loved Tchaikovsky, Copeland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’, Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird Suite’, Rimsky-Korsakov and the bass virtuoso and conductor Serge Koussevitzky”. 36 A staunch advocate of new music, Koussevitzky would make a profound and long-lasting contribution to the commissioning and performance of contemporary works by composers as varied as Gershwin, Hindemith, Albert Roussel and Howard Hanson. Chambers’s interest in Koussevitzky was indicative of his studious and informed perspective on his instrument and its potential. Chambers was not a self-taught, instinctive player but a studied instrumentalist who, had the professional opportunities available to African-American musicians been wider, may have found a place for himself in a symphony orchestra rather than in the nightclubs and theatres on the jazz circuit. Despite the tragic circumstances that had forced the relocation upon him, having made the move to Detroit, Paul Chambers had been placed in a

position to make the most of the city’s growing prosperity. Detroit as a city grew faster than any other US city in the first thirty years of the twentieth century. The population around the turn of the century was in the region of 286,000 and the town boasted very little that would serve to draw attention to itself. By 1920, however, it was the fourth largest city in the United States, with a population rapidly approaching one million. Over the next decade, a further half million people arrived, seeking the opportunities offered by the developing auto industry, an industry that would give Detroit its alternative persona as the “Motor City”. A large percentage of the migrants coming into Detroit during this period were from the Southern States: from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and Mississippi. There has almost always been a healthy music scene in Detroit, dating back to the early years of the twentieth century and to the early vaudeville theatres. The development of the Detroit auto industry during this period resulted in a significant increase in the black population of the city. This population, with its burgeoning wealth, needed entertaining during its leisure time, leading to a marked increase in the number of theatres providing live music: from three, in 1917, to nine by 1926. These theatres would soon be hosting touring vaudeville shows that would include urban and so-called “classic blues” artists like Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith and her teacher, Ma Rainey, “the mother of the blues”, 37 who appeared many times at the “Koppin” theatre before it closed in 1931. Boogie-woogie pianists like “Speckled Red” (Rufus Perryman) and “Big Maceo” (Maceo Merryweather) would earn their living playing Detroit house parties in much the same way as Willie “The Lion” Smith and “Cow Cow” Davenport did in New York or Chicago. Other highly significant outfits connected to the early jazz scene in Detroit were William McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. While there were many other society orchestras and jazz bands operating in the area during this time, these two bands carried a number of particularly significant musicians, men who would have a lasting effect on jazz in the United States if not the world over. McKinney’s band, at one stage in its history, featured the playing and arrangements of saxophonist Don Redman and experienced a long residency at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit. 38 Goldkette’s Orchestra was famed for including, at various points in its relatively short history, some of early jazz’s most celebrated figures, among them cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, C-melody saxophone player Frankie Trumbauer, violinist Joe Venuti, the Dorsey brothers, trombonist Tommy and clarinet and sax player Jimmy, and, one of Dizzy Gillespie’s early influences, trumpeter Roy “Little Jazz” Eldridge. As a unit, the Goldkette Orchestra gained national notoriety when, late in 1926, the band “clearly and cleanly bested that of Fletcher Henderson in a climactic ‘Battle of Music’ held at New York’s Roseland Ballroom”. 39 The be-bop years were well covered also, with many of the national bands featuring the developing be-bop musicians appearing in Detroit during the

early part of the 1940s. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie visited the Club El Sino in the Paradise Valley area of Detroit for a two-week engagement in 1947 (Gillespie would return for two further separate two-week residencies that year) and returned to the city on several occasions during the following years. Some of these early Detroit performances were recorded by Savoy Records and remain classics to this day. Other visitors to El Sino included tenor saxophonists Gene Ammons and Illinois Jacquet. Vibes player Milt Jackson and tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson both grew up on the East Side of Detroit, where Milt and Lucky performed together as teenagers in the King’s Aces big band. Jackson, eventual stalwart of one of the longest-standing bands in jazz, the Modern Jazz Quartet, would later credit his rapid absorption of the innovations of be-bop to the vitality of the Detroit jazz scene: 40

The Detroit environment in the early 1940s was very beautiful. I wish they could have kept that environment and enhanced it. The environment of the 1940s in Detroit was very similar to the environment of 52nd Street when I first came to New York. 41

Trumpeter Howard McGhee and tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray, both early exponents of this new music, were both born in Oklahoma but moved indepen- dently to Detroit at a very young age. McGhee, Gray, and bassist Al McKibbon, also attended the renowned Cass Technical High School, although only Gray actually graduated. McGhee, Gray, Jackson, Thompson and McKibbon all went on to make significant contributions to the development of be-bop nationally:

McGhee and Jackson with Charlie Parker and with Norman Granz’s “Jazz at the Philharmonic”; Thompson, who also played with Parker and Gillespie, went on to perform with, among others, Billy Eckstine and Lionel Hampton; Gray performed with everyone from Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter and Tadd Dameron to Dexter Gordon, Al Haig, Clark Terry and Annie Ross; McKibbon went on to replace Ray Brown in Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra in 1947 before going on to perform with, among others, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk and Benny Carter. McKibbon was the bass player on the famous Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions in 1949–50, preceding Chambers as a Davis sideman by six years. Yusef Lateef was another Detroit-based horn player who went on to national prominence with, among others, Cannonball Adderley and Dizzy Gillespie. While a developing musician in Detroit, Lateef was still known as William or Bill Evans, having not yet embraced the Ahmadiyya Islamic movement. Trombonist Frank Rosolino, who played in the Millar High School band in Detroit, went on to gain fame for his performances with and arrangements for the Stan Kenton band before his tragic death in 1978. The high-profile celebrity of a musician wasn’t the only way that an individual could have an influence on the national scene; pianist Tommy Flanagan readily recorded his admiration of the relatively unknown Detroit

pianist Willie Anderson. Kenny Burrell agreed: “I owe Willie Anderson a great debt, and I am very grateful for the opportunity he gave me … Willie Anderson was phenomenal”. 42 Anderson was approached with offers to play by Benny Goodman and Coleman Hawkins at various times in his career but refused to leave Detroit, remaining in the city until his death, aged forty- seven, in 1971. Singer Betty Carter got an early break in Detroit, after working as a chorus girl in the Club El Sino when Charlie Parker was playing there. 43 After hearing that Carter could sing, Parker would invite her on-stage to perform, leading eventually to her getting her own singing jobs at the club. Further afield, in a small city on the north-west fringes of Detroit’s suburbs, known as Pontiac, Michigan, lived the Jones family – three girls and five boys, the children of a lumber inspector for General Motors. The eldest of the three and most famous of the Jones boys was pianist Hank. Five years his junior was trumpeter Thad Jones, while the youngest of the three, drummer Elvin, went on to become part of the most famous of John Coltrane’s quartets, the band that recorded the classic A Love Supreme. The Jones boys were a significant presence on and around the Detroit jazz scene, not least because

of the regular jam sessions held at their Pontiac home. Elvin recalls:

There was a great deal of interest and an undercurrent of support for the music all over Detroit and that area. Everybody loved the music. They loved to see a young cat develop, to follow his development and to encourage and support him. Consequently, where I lived in Pontiac … I started asking the cats if they wouldn’t like to come out to my house just to jam. My mother made everything comfortable for everybody. Every Monday that house would be mine and all the musicians from Detroit would flock out there. We would jam and have a ball. That went on for a couple of years. It was that kind of community support. 44

Another Detroit musician who has made a highly significant, if sometimes indirect, contribution to the history of jazz in America and in Detroit specifi- cally was the pianist Barry Harris. Harris was performing in Detroit clubs before his age made it legal for him to do so and has fond memories of the Blue Bird Inn in Detroit:

The bandstand was in the window. I’d knock on the window and the pianist, a cat named Phil Hill, would turn and look at me. When he finished a song, I’d run and play a couple of tunes and run back out. 45

Harris, while experiencing his own degree of jazz celebrity, went on to become

a mentor to a significant number of renowned and legendary musicians,

including both John Coltrane and Paul Chambers. At the time of writing

(2012), Harris is still performing regularly and working extensively in the education of developing musicians. By age twenty-four, Harris was considered by many to be the greatest modern pianist in Detroit next to Tommy Flanagan. Charles Boles has similar perspectives on the importance of Harris to the local scene:

… after school we all ran over to Barry Harris’ house for a jam session which lasted usually until 12am when Barry’s mother would put us out. Usually at these sessions would be from time to time Roy Brooks, Charles McPherson, Lonnie Hillyer, Doug Watkins the other great bass player from Detroit. The list of musicians jamming at Barry’s house was far too long to name everyone, however … we all learned a lot from our teacher and task master Barry Harris. 46

Harris was always entertaining other musicians at his home: “My mother was beautiful to all of us, Donald Byrd, Paul and Doug. My house was a classroom. We could practice all we wanted”. 47 Singer Sheila Jordan, long based in New York, invoked that scene years later when she was interviewed by W. Royal Stokes: “Jazz was flourishing in

where a lot

I got to meet Paul Chambers when he

Detroit when I was in high school of the greats would come and play

was about 15 years old because he was at Barry Harris’ house one day and Barry said, ‘You gotta hear this kid play!’” Ann Chandler acknowledges the role Harris played in the development of the young players in Detroit: “Barry got a lot of good jobs for all of them”. 48

Baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams confirmed the profound relationship between Harris, Chambers and Watkins:

We had a couple of places

Paul and Doug spent a lot of time with Barry Harris … He showed them what specific patterns to walk and everything … this gave them a tremendous educational advantage. Apart from [Oscar] Pettiford, I don’t think there was anyone to compare with Paul and Doug. 49

It has long been believed that Paul Chambers and Doug Watkins were cousins, although it is generally acknowledged that this meant cousins by marriage. Ann Chandler has been able to put the record straight, observing that, although the two men had physical similarities and wore similar clothes, “including small ties”, they were in no way related, by marriage or otherwise. Pierre Chambers shed more light on the situation:

OK! I will settle this matter for you forever; I can and will answer the question with all knowledge and understanding. No-one else has the information on our family and, whatever the reporters,

papers, magazines, people who knew them [or] anybody else will tell you, my father and Doug were best great friends, like brothers in spirit and as bass players they were equals. The Watkins family lived next door to my mother when she was growing up. Doug and my mother were like brother and sister. They both went to Cass Technical High School together where they met my father and he and my father played bass together in the band (I think) and became good friends. They were very close friends and two of the best young bass players during that time. I’m sure Doug would tell you the same if he were alive but, as you know, he died early, a great loss to the jazz community. But, for the last time, Douglas Watkins and Paul Chambers were very good friends, again like brothers, but that was it and nothing more than that. Even if they said they were related, they were making that up, which shows how close they were to one another. But, nonetheless, the Chambers family is not and never was or will be related to the Watkins family. 50

Many years later, at fourteen years old, William Bennett, a cousin of Ann Chambers, spent some time at Doug Watkin’s home. Bennett had made a tie pin for his father and had engraved his father’s name “Henry” on it. Watkins wanted to borrow the tie pin and didn’t mind that the pin had someone else’s name on it. Watkin’s was excited about an imminent trip to Japan and had shown Bennett the ticket he had bought for the trip. Sadly, Watkins was never to make that particular gig, dying in a car accident on 5 February 1962, on the way to a gig in Phoenix, Arizona. Pierre Chambers remembers that day:

I loved Doug. I can remember when he died. I was little but I remember he has two black poodles and I remember he had a black MG Midget, the English car. I remember my mother crying about him being killed in the car. 51

Another peer of Chambers was saxophonist and, at that time, bass player Ernie Rogers. Rogers recalls his time at Cass Tech and the times he played with Chambers in some of the many venues, large and small, around Detroit. One of his most vivid memories of the young Chambers related to his lack of a driving licence. In order to get his bass to and from gigs, Rogers recalls, “he used to carry his bass home on the bus!” Rogers also credits Chambers as being the first person to use a wheel on the end pin of the bass as an aid to transportation: “He would wheel it down the street”. 52 Rogers had a small jazz group while he was still at school and would often book Chambers for gigs. He recalls that everyone was aware that the young man’s talent was already there, even in these early days. This talent Rogers credits to one of Chambers’s first music teachers, Michael Bistritsky (Rogers recalls being harangued by Bistritsky himself, due to his own refusal to specialize in the

older man’s beloved double bass). Rogers recalls Chambers’s early dates with Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan and Yusef Lateef. After Chambers left for New York, Rogers would go on to teach at the N.W. High School in Detroit and to play with everyone from visiting celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr to the Detroit Symphony. At the time of writing, Rogers is Professor of Jazz Studies at the Wayne State University and is still working regularly in and around the Detroit area. 53 Donald Byrd was another Detroit musician with whom Chambers played in his early years at Cass Tech. Chambers recalled: “I used to get together with Doug Watkins, Donald Byrd and piano player Hugh Lawson in rest periods and we’d play”. 54 Byrd joined Chambers in a band run by pianist George Wallington and recorded an LP for Savoy under his own name using Chambers, fellow Detroit native Frank Foster and, from the old jam sessions in Pontiac, Michigan, Hank Jones. Other faces who appeared at various points during the history of jazz in Detroit, many of whom Chambers would record with at some point in his career, included baritone sax player Pepper Adams (1930–1986) and bassist Ron Carter, who had moved to Detroit aged fourteen, attending Cass Tech at the same time as Chambers although, at this stage, he wasn’t playing the bass. Ann Chandler would later recall the presence of these two famous sons of Detroit in the stories of her earliest meeting with Chambers, on her first day at Cass Tech:

I met him in the auditorium at school. He was on the stage, … my

teacher … had told me to go and sit down. This was my first year and my first day at Cass Tech. I went all the way down to the front because the orchestra was in there. They were having a class in

there [Paul was playing the bass and Ron Carter was playing the cello]. So, I went all the way down to the front to see and hear. And

I sat there and it seemed the longer I sat there the louder Paul got. He was talking, he was walking around and talking to everybody. After a while, he came down off the stage and asked me, did I have any gum. And I gave him some gum and he went back up on the stage, and I went on to my class after that. But then, that evening Doug Watkins lived right next door to me. We had grown up like, sisters and brothers. I’ve known Doug all of my life. That evening or the next day or the next week, who should pop over at Doug’s house, but Paul? And Doug introduced him to me. 55

Annie Mae Williams, as she was then known, originated from the town of Greenwood, Mississippi, a place she regularly visits to this day and of which she is clearly fond. The only child of Earl and Mattie Williams, Annie Mae was born on 21 February 1937, a little less than two years after Chambers.

Ann and Paul Chambers, aged seventeen (photograph courtesy of the Chambers family archive). Ron Carter

Ann and Paul Chambers, aged seventeen (photograph courtesy of the Chambers family archive).

Ron Carter also recalls those days in the Cass Tech orchestra but his relationship with Chambers was essentially peripheral. At this stage, Carter was serious about the classical cello, practising six hours a day and working a paper round to save money to buy an instrument. “[Chambers] was hanging out, playing jazz gigs”. 56 He continued the story to his own biographer, Dan Ouellette:

Paul, while an accomplished classical player, took to the local jazz scene when he was young, playing bass choruses on occasion with the touring jazz stars, such as Max Roach. Paul was a very good classical type player who was interested in making the gigs, meeting all the guys and playing with them … 57

Carter also noted that, because Paul was into the nightclub scene, he often missed the eight o’clock morning orchestra class at Cass. In interview, Carter also confirmed that, although he never met Chambers’s father, his own father and Paul Chambers Sr had worked together driving buses around Detroit. In addition to pianist Tommy Flanagan, singer/guitarist/pianist Slim Gaillard (1916–1991), trombone player Curtis Fuller (b. 1934) and pianist and vibes player Terry Pollard (b. 1931) all had a presence on the Detroit jazz scene at some point in the city’s history. Chambers would get defensive about Pollard later on and show a non-chauvinistic side to his character: “I used to work a duo on-and-off with Terry Pollard, and you know there’s a lot of people around who say ‘she’s good for a girl’. That’s stupid. There are many good women musicians; it bugs me every time I hear that”. 58

Chambers probably played his first gig, while still a teenager, at one of the little bars in the Hastings Street area of Detroit, “for dances or other recreational affairs ‘for as low as fifty cents a gig’”. 59 Shim recalls that “his initial professional experience began at about that age of sixteen when he’d borrow a tin bass from the school and, along with other musicians, would play for dances and other recreational affairs”. 60 Chambers would later tell Nat Hentoff that his earliest professional experiences took place when he was still only fifteen years old. Initially, these gigs only occurred around once a week increasing gradually until he finished high school at age seventeen. Ann Chandler discussed these early experiences in the clubs of Detroit, despite the fact that she was too young to go in them:

[Paul] got into a lot more places than I did because he played an instrument. A lot of times he got in there and people thought he

was of age, you know how it is. If you get an instrument you can do

a lot of things that you couldn’t if you were just walking around. He was very tall, he looked adult. I remember the Blue Bird … there were a lot of lounges around here … 61

In 1994 Detroit jazz scholars Bjorn and Gallert would later describe the Blue Bird as:

the hippest modern jazz nightspot in Detroit during the City’s be-bop heyday. Almost every significant 1950s hard-bop veteran in the city either played or hung out there during its peak years. It’s still there on Tireman, in excellent shape and, as one longtime patron has said, “If you go in there and listen close, you can still hear all of that music coming out of the walls!”

What made the Blue Bird unique was the people who played, listened and enjoyed themselves there. It was a neighbourhood bar that welcomed jazz

lovers. The late Detroit baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams once recalled its

“great atmosphere; nothing phony about it in any way

great swinging music”. 62 Musicians formed a significant part of the audience at the club. Bassist Bill Crow reports that he “first heard [Paul] in Detroit at the Blue Bird, when Terry Pollard took the Terry Gibbs Quartet (Frank DiVito and I were the other two members) to a jam session there. Paul sounded good”. 63 No recordings have yet surfaced from these early Detroit experiences, although Bill Crow does recall a near miss:

No pretensions and

I remember the acetate recorder that a friend of my mother’s

huge equipment, and a pain

to operate. My first recording equipment, bought when I got out

brought to our house around 1943

of the army in 1949, was a Brush Soundmirror. Unfortunately, everything I recorded vanished when the oxide-coated paper tape I was using crumbled to dust a year or so later. I wish I’d had it the first time I visited the Blue Bird in Detroit in 1953 … I think it was Billy Mitchell’s gig, but I couldn’t get over the quality of the players who had come by to sit in: … Elvin Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Paul Chambers, Ernie Farrow, Doug Watkins, Curtis Fuller,

Thad Jones, Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell

it was as hot as any

venue in New York, and I was amazed and delighted. (Within a year or so they were all in New York.) 64

Nevertheless, Chambers had, of course, had the obligatory near brush with a conventional day-job. In Leonard Feather’s jazz encyclopedia questionnaire, in 1956, Chambers indicated that he had worked as a stock boy at the J.L. Hudson Department Store in Detroit for a couple of months, early in 1953. Unsurprisingly, the young bass player didn’t stick this long before quitting for a musical career. Chambers was soon working professionally with the likes of guitarist Kenny Burrell, trumpeter Thad Jones, pianist Barry Harris and other musicians on the Detroit scene. His more formal bass training, with Gaston Brohan, had begun in earnest in 1952, when Chambers was aged seventeen,

begun in earnest in 1952, when Chambers was aged seventeen, Paul and Ann’s wedding day, 14

Paul and Ann’s wedding day, 14 June 1953 (photograph courtesy of the Chambers family archive).

and he continued to develop his versatility while undertaking some classical work with the Detroit String Band, a local rehearsal symphony orchestra. Chambers would later tell Hentoff: “At first I played along with records and I used to try to pick out some of the things Parker, for example, would do”. 65 Around this time, Annie Mae Williams fell pregnant and, as a consequence, Chambers married his young sweetheart in a ceremony held in the living room of Ann’s mother’s house on 14 June 1953. Who else would be the groom’s best man but his partner in time, the young man who had unwittingly introduced the couple, Doug Watkins. On 6 December 1953, Ann gave birth to the couple’s first child, Eric Chambers. Chambers’s youngest son, Pierre, recalls:

she was in the delivery room with Eric, my oldest brother, while she was screaming and dealing with the birth, my father was running around trying to get to her. She said it was like that with all of us. He would labor over a name for us. He named us all. My mother was just the carrier but he named us. [On this occasion, it was] Eric if it was a boy, Erica if it was a girl. 66

Chambers’s relationship with the visiting Ray Brown remained a factor in his life for some years, particularly during Eric’s childhood. Pierre Chambers would later recall that his mother told him how

[Father] would play to my brother Eric. She also said that Ray Brown came over and they would practice while my brother watched and kicked to the music. I can remember my father playing [songs] for all of us while he practiced. I remember Eric’s being about airplanes because he was and is crazy about flying. I cannot remember what he played for my sister or me. 67

Another particularly significant relationship amongst Detroit’s musical community was that which Chambers shared with guitarist Kenny Burrell. Burrell grew up in a family of musicians on the East Side of the city. Kenny was the second guitarist in the family, his brother Billy, some eleven years older, having already taken up the instrument. It quickly became apparent that Billy’s younger brother had something special in terms of his chosen instrument. Burrell attended the Miller High School, as Milt Jackson and Yusef Lateef had done some ten years previously. Early gigs with Tommy Flanagan and offers to go on the road with Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet did not distract the young guitarist and he stayed on at Wayne State University until he graduated in 1955. A couple of years earlier, Burrell had formed a band that eventually took the name Kenny Burrell and the Four Sharps, featuring Burrell with Harold McKinney on piano, Hindall Butts on drums and, finally, Chambers on double bass. In 1961, Chambers recalled:


was working at nights with Kenny Burrell. He had a very nice

group with Yusef Lateef, and [Hindall] Butts on drums. Kenny’s making quite a good living now, doing mostly studio work in New

York and jazz jobs at night. He used to like to sing, so we had a few arrangements something like the Four Freshmen. I wonder if

I could do that now? 68

Chambers went into more detail:

Kenny Burrell … helped me a lot. In the two years before I left Detroit, I worked regularly with a group he directed. We did a lot of

gigs together. It was with this band that I started to play solos with

a bow. All of the group members went to school and studied and I

wanted to be their equal. It was a very conscientious team. We also had a vocal ensemble … It was very good for the ear. To work with Kenny wasn’t comfortable. He never liked to play

tunes in the same key. Certain evenings he played a piece in one key and then changed it the following day. 69

Chambers was still only seventeen when he joined the Four Sharps, a remarkable achievement bearing in mind he had taken up the instrument only two years or so previously. During 1951, while only sixteen, Chambers increased his performing experiences with a band run by drummer “The Baroness” Jean Douglas. These gigs allegedly included performances at a club that featured female impersonators. Chambers played with various other small groups in and around Detroit, including Terry Pollard, mentioned earlier. Charles Boles recalls Chambers’s rapid rise to professional competence: “he took to the bass like a duck to water and after about a year of playing in the band he was the bass player on call for many gigs”. 70 Frank Gant recalls that Barry Harris was a regular employer of both Chambers and Watkins: “One week he would use Doug Watkins and the next week he’d use Paul Chambers and I don’t know who was the hippest at that time you know, both of them were great, you know, feeling wise”. Chambers’s relationship with Doug Watkins was close. The two young men once lived together on the West Side of Detroit. Chambers’s closest friend, born 2 March 1934, was one year ahead of him at Cass Tech although Watkins actually graduated three years earlier. Barry Harris recalled: “I remember when Paul Chambers came to a gig at the Civic Centre and didn’t even know a note. Doug Watkins could play ahead of Paul. Paul learned to play at my house; he was probably one of my main students”. 71 Chambers actually substituted for his friend at the Paradise Lounge in 1952, once more alongside pianist Terry Pollard. Watkins left Detroit initially in 1953 to tour with renowned Dizzy Gillespie sideman James Moody, before joining Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1954.

Even a cursory read of the discographies of the hard-bop era leads us to the inevitable conclusion that Chambers and Watkins were two of the most sought-after bass players for New York-based sessions during the latter half of the 1950s. Hindal Butts recalled his days performing with Chambers in the Four Sharps:

Paul was determined to make the bass a solo instrument and he practised and practised, hour upon hour. I waited on Paul to take a couple of girls out, and he wouldn’t stop practising! He loved to bow and he mastered the bow … at Klein’s he was doing all the things you heard him do [later] … He liked [Oscar] Pettiford … I can remember Paul playing “Softly in the Morning Sunrise” [sic]. 72

Another aspect of his playing that would receive attention during the Detroit years related to the playing of chords on the bass. On the recommendation of another local bass player, Chambers bought a book detailing the work of arco soloist Slam Stewart, the player who is credited with introducing Chambers to the concepts of arco soloing in jazz and of singing along with his solos. This latter habit would follow Chambers throughout his professional career. The standards of musicianship in the Detroit area were high and players from the locality had no problems in moving into the mainstream jazz scene. “You see in Detroit the standards were so high that to compete for local gigs you had to really play awful goddamn good! If you were good enough to be competitive in Detroit, you were far ahead of what the rest of the world’s standards were”. 73 Detroit drummer Oliver Jackson, who played some of his earliest gigs with Chambers, Thad Jones, Billy Mitchell and Tommy Flanagan, recorded a similar sentiment in an interview with Val Wilmer published in Downbeat on 14 December 1967:

People still had plenty of money and there were many, many clubs all over the city … I don’t think society was as involved then as it is now. People tended to do what they had to, then come out and drink and enjoy themselves. Consequently, so many good musicians came out of Detroit because there were so many places to play and the spirit was good. 74

These early gigs were short-lived, however, and Chambers left for New York soon afterwards, at the invitation of tenor saxophonist Paul Quinichette (1915–1983) and with the support and encouragement of Burrell. Quinichette’s band was one of Chambers’s first professional “road” experiences. Watkins and Chambers made their move to New York at around the same time but Chambers carried with him his secret weapon: the arco playing for which he

would be particularly known throughout his career. Ray McKinley offered the following perspective on Chambers’s bowing techniques:

Both Paul and Doug impressed me, but Paul became the one because he bowed a lot. He was very original. So was Doug, but he didn’t pursue it as much as Paul did. He was a great admirer of Paul. There is more of [Major] “Mule” Holley’s influence than Slam Stewart’s. “Mule” Holley was a guy he used to watch locally and Ali Jackson. 75

It is likely that Chambers developed his advanced bowing technique under the tutelage of Michael Bistritsky and Gaston Brohan and as a response to the specific demands of the classical music he was also playing while at Cass Tech. As has been noted, Chambers was also a member of a classical ensemble called the Detroit String Band, a position that would have also required him to read proficiently and to be competent with a bow. In an interview with Wayne Enstice, bass legend Charles Mingus would later express his consternation at the kudos Chambers received for his arco soloing with Miles Davis:

I really got down with the bass and started to try to solo myself, and I used a bow a lot … Miles Davis was on the same set as me, and they were playing “Body and Soul,” and he said, “Man, put that bow down. This ain’t no symphony. This is jazz, man”. So I put it down for good, and the next thing I know, four or five years later, he hires a bass player named Paul Chambers who did nothing but bow. I would have been far advanced in jazz bow. I was playing most of the classical solos when I was with Rheinschagen. But jazz bowing, if you just include the classical bowings, you get a much better swing than if you just play up and down like some guys do. 76

2 New York, the Jazz Corner of the World

The role of the bass player in jazz has evolved over the century or so that has passed since its origins in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is widely believed that the “bass” parts in the early jazz bands were usually played not on double bass but on tuba and that, consequently, the evolution of the music from blues through ragtime took place with little or no contri- bution from the double bass. As is often the case, however, history has a way of flattening out pertinent details to suit a convenient chronological progression of events. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the double bass was being used widely throughout the years that incubated the birth of jazz music. While the marching bands in New Orleans would no doubt have found the tuba to be a more portable alternative to the double bass (Chamber’s end pin wheel aside), the instrument was being used in ragtime orchestras and string bands as early as the 1880s. Early photographs would indicate that, from the time of Buddy Bolden up until the 1920s, the instrument was bowed rather than played pizzicato. John Lindsay was using the double bass on early recordings by Jelly Roll Morton (e.g. “Black Bottom Stomp”, 1926). Even at this early stage, Lindsay used a range of techniques including pizzicato, bowing, stop-time rhythms and slapping. The early virtuoso bass player Steve Brown also used the double bass with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings as early as 1922. The place of the tuba in early jazz was probably over-emphasized by the inadequacies of the early recording media. In order for the archaic recording equipment to be able to pick up the lower frequencies required for bass notes, it was found that the tuba had better carrying power than the double bass. As most of the world was hearing jazz through the media of recordings, it is not surprising that the tuba was seen as the most authentic bass instrument in early jazz. It may be pertinent to note that the drums suffered from a similar misconception in the eyes of the public. The volume created by the drum kits used by early jazz musicians would cause considerable difficulties for early recording technicians and, so, in an effort to address these difficulties, drummers like Baby Dodds,

when recording with the legendary Joe “King” Oliver, were required to perform using alternative percussion instruments such as woodblocks. As a result, despite the historical perceptions of authenticity, early recordings of jazz bands would not be representative of the live performances of the musicians involved but distortions, even parodies, of those performances created by the need to counter inadequate or rudimentary recording technology. The development of improved recording techniques around the mid 1920s meant that the bass could be more readily heard and, as a result, many of the tuba players of that time began moving over to the potentially more flexible double bass. John Kirby was among those early players that made the change. The concept of the four to the bar “walking” bass line began to find favour as a result of the work of players like Walter Page of the Count Basie band but, as has previously been noted, it wasn’t until the innovations of Ellington bassist Jimmy Blanton that the instrument came to be seen as a legitimate solo voice. The lineage of modern jazz bass is not, however, so as simply defined as this straight progression would imply. As Goldsby writes in The Jazz Bass Book:

Blanton, in all of his young brilliance, was not the only technical and musical adventurer exploring the instrument, Blanton’s prede- cessor’s with the Ellington band – Wellman Braud, Billy Taylor and Hayes Alvis – also cranked up the heat and fuelled Duke’s ensemble, albeit with less technical prowess than Blanton … There were other important bass soloists to arrive on the scene in the ’30s, years before Blanton made his mark: Bob Haggart, Slam Stewart, Milt Hinton and the band-leading bassist John Kirby. 1

Nevertheless, Chambers acknowledged the influence that Blanton had on his own playing:

He was really the beginning for the instrument itself in jazz. He opened up the field. I’d like to develop further the ideas he had of bowing, picking and playing with rhythm. He was the only one so far as I know to have tried to expand the bass in every respect. 2

Oscar Pettiford continued this tradition begun by Blanton, as did other players such as Ray Brown and Milt Hinton, all of whom were involved in the innovations that occurred in the early 1940s and subsequently came to be known as “be-bop”. Further innovations were around the corner, with Red Callender and Charles Mingus adding their contributions to the development of the instrument, followed by the further liberation of the bass by the likes of Scott LaFaro, Gary Peacock, Eddie Gomez and Ron Carter. The development continued throughout the “free jazz” movement of the 1950s and 1960s with the work of Ornette Coleman’s bass player Charlie Haden, with Jimmy Garrison, the bassist with John Coltrane, and on through the likes of Dave

Holland, Barre Phillips and Barry Guy (like Mingus, Guy also shares the same birth-date as Chambers, 22 April, although he is twelve years younger). The list of contemporary players of quality is substantial and incredibly diverse but, even as the role of the bass as a solo instrument becomes increasingly emphasized, almost all of these players would agree on the fundamental role of the bass in jazz. Musicologist Jourdain revealed a different perspective in his 2002 book Music, the Brain and Ecstasy, a perspective that puts a whole new slant on the role of the bass in jazz and which highlights the potential influence that an improvising player can have on the direction of a piece of music:

Most listeners are unaware of their sensitivity to bass notes, partly because bass lines are seldom written as interesting melodies (and generally can’t be, owing to the inherent dissonance of intervals at low frequencies). Nonetheless, our brains latch on to bass tones as a kind of foundation on top of which harmony is built. Bass tones carry much energy, and they project a strong, extensive series of overtones that sets a framework against which higher tones are heard. Composers have long understood that a carefully crafted bass line can propel a composition forward, while a poor one will leave it becalmed. Bass tones are lumbering beasts of burden that pull along the entire harmonic edifice. 3

Robert Hurst, bass player with, amongst others, both Wynton and Branford Marsalis, offers a more simple and potentially definitive definition: “Part of the mindset of being a bass player … is [to] get off on making other people sound good”. 4 Having left Detroit to tour with Quinichette, as he had predicted, Chambers did not initially return to his home town but took the opportunity to formally make the move to New York City. The move carried with it certain risks, as Hindall Butts recalls: “When Paul was considering leaving Detroit I told him ‘How the hell are you going to make it on $125 a week with a family?’ … He said ‘Well it’s something I got to do’”. Chambers later explained his position to Val Wilmer:

Everybody has dreams of going to New York one day or other, because that’s where you can probably make a reputation. So, I just waited for Paul Quinichette to come along and he took me out of Detroit. I played with him for about eight months, which was good experience. We had Sir Charles [Thompson] on piano, Chink Williams on drums and a guitar. In those days Paul [Quinichette] was drinking quite a lot, but he was a nice cat. The jobs weren’t too plentiful, though, so he had to break up his band – that was in 1954. 5

Chambers did have the opportunity to record with the Quinichette band and, on 4 November 1954, joined Quinichette, flautist Sam Most, pianist Sir Charles Thompson, guitarists Jerome Darr and Barry Galbraith and drummer Harold Wing in a New York studio for the recording of “Plush Life”, “You’re Crying”, “Shorty George” and “Pablo’s Roonie” (Most and Galbraith did not play on “Shorty George”). The material captured that day is presently listed as the earliest recorded work involving the bass player. It would have clearly been an important occasion for the developing musician and it is likely that the event would have been a memorable one for the new kid on the block. Not so for New Jersey born flautist Sam Most, however, a multi-instrumentalist and veteran of the Tommy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn and Don Redman bands. Most would go on to win the 1954 Downbeat Critic’s “New Star” award in this year and would later go on to play with Buddy Rich and Red Norvo. When later asked about the events of 4 November 1954 and the fact that he may have taken part in Paul Chambers’s first professional recording, Most had no specific recollections of the session or of ever even talking to Chambers. Ann Chandler, Chambers’s wife, later recalled the couple’s move to New York and their initial lack of a stable address: “The first time we went to New York we roomed with a lot of people”. 6 This early move was insecure, however, and the couple went back to Detroit where, on 1 May 1955, Ann gave birth to the couple’s second child, a daughter christened Renee Margaret Chambers. “My sister’s name was Renee but Roxanne was an alternative if Renee did not fit”. 7 It wasn’t long, however, before Chambers was back working in the Big Apple. As with any new arrival in any town or city the world over, a musician will need to foster links with the local music community, to meet the players and make him or herself known. Often, musicians will seek to get themselves noticed by attending jam sessions or by sitting in. Chambers was still only twenty years old when he made the move to New York and it must have been somewhat daunting. Not only was one expected to compete with one’s peers but the great and the good were also in a position to make or break the reputation of a young pretender. One of the regular jam sessions that Chambers attended in his early years in New York was held at the famous “Jazz Corner of the World”: Birdland. Vibes player Terry Gibbs recalled:

One time, I played the Monday night jam session at Birdland and Paul Chambers, who was just a young kid at the time out of Detroit, was playing bass that night. I knew Paul from when I played in Detroit. He was in an after hours group there. This was before Paul went with Miles Davis. We did our set and had to walk through these saloon doors to get back to the dressing room. We got through the doors and there was Oscar Pettiford, juiced out of his bird. Paul was carrying his bass to put in the back room and Oscar said “Hey, motherfucker. Play ‘Body and Soul’”. Paul looked

scared. Paul didn’t want to play because first of all, he was in awe of Oscar Pettiford. Oscar was the greatest bass player in the world at that time. Paul said he didn’t feel like playing but Oscar insisted and it got to the point where he started getting nasty about it. “Play ‘Body and Soul’”. Oscar didn’t even wait for Paul to play eight bars before he grabbed the bass out of Paul’s hands and said “No! Not like that”. Then Oscar played the melody to “Body and Soul” and made the bass sing. He really embarrassed Paul and made him look like a little kid. Oscar played the eight bars as beautiful as you ever heard, handed the bass back to Paul, and walked out. 8

This incident would no doubt have had a powerful effect on an impressionable young musician. Chambers later said of Oscar Pettiford: “He’s always played fascinating solos. He’s more my idea of what I’d like to hear in a bass solo than everybody so far”. 9 To find yourself performing in front of one of your idols and being asked to play is one thing. To be chastened in the way Gibbs describes could easily destroy the faint-hearted. The parallels with Charlie Parker’s legendary meeting with Count Basie drummer Jo Jones, who expressed his disdain for an overlong and barely competent solo from the young alto player by throwing a cymbal to the ground at his feet, are obvious. The Jo Jones incident is widely regarded as a turning point for the young Parker, who, as a result of the humiliation he experienced at the hands of Jones, allegedly went away and practised slavishly in preparation for his emergence as one of most influential jazz musicians of all time (the visual and aural motif of this crashing cymbal was used extensively by film director Clint Eastwood to punctuate the saxophonist’s failings in his controversial Parker biopic Bird). Despite the incident at Birdland, Chambers and Pettiford would develop a more conducive relationship when Pettiford was musical director of the Café Bohemia, a venue which Chambers would later play with George Wallington and other bandleaders. Chambers recalled:

… we used to have a ball. Lots of times we used to get up and play two basses after the show, and sometimes he would play cello. I took one home a couple of times and when you play it, things come out a little clearer because it’s a smaller instrument. 10

Drummer J.C. Heard would later define the lineage of the musical relationship between Chambers and Pettiford in an interview with James Doran:

Oscar was sweet as pie. He drank a lot; he had a bad whisky habit, but other than that when he was playing, hey listen … That’s who Ray Brown patterned from. I’ll run the bass players down, from when I was playing music, as the great soloists: Jimmy Blanton

Paul Chambers with Annie, Eric and Renee (photograph courtesy of the Chambers family archive). started

Paul Chambers with Annie, Eric and Renee (photograph courtesy of the Chambers family archive).

started off as far as great soloists on the bass, and Oscar Pettiford got from Blanton, Ray Brown got from Pettiford … Paul Chambers got from Ray and a lot of other guys got from Paul Chambers and so on and so on. 11

During his early years in New York, Chambers worked with a number of significant instrumentalists on the professional jazz scene. One of these early employers was trombonist Bennie Green, with whose combo Chambers appeared at the Bohemia. Born in Chicago on 16 April 1923, Green studied trombone with the band director of the Du Sable High School in Chicago and began his playing career playing with local groups in the Windy City. In the 1950s, Green led his own small groups, usually partnered by a tenor saxophonist such as Charlie Rouse or Jimmy Forrest, but also employing young developing sidemen such as pianist Sonny Clark, Elvin Jones and Paul Chambers. Chambers would later tell British jazz journalist and photographer Valerie Wilmer of his touring experiences with Green:

This was sort of in-between; musically it was very good, but Benny Green had them commercial things going. Like, most of the dates we did were with rock ’n’ roll singers [on the same bill]. We did a two month tour of the South once, and I guess that was the hardest thing I ever did. We haven’t been in the South for quite a while, and I’m not too interested in going again. But it depends. There’s the

Deep South and the kind of South West – Maryland, for example,

is on the border, but it’s OK. There’s some horrible stuff in the

Deep South, but funnily enough, every time I get over here, people seem to have a worse picture of it than it really is. I didn’t have any trouble at all. 12

Chambers did get the opportunity to record with Green, on the albums Bennie Green Blows His Horn and Glidin’ Along. The earlier of these two recordings, one of Chambers’s earliest experiences in a recording environment, took place between June and September 1955 and, in addition to Charlie Rouse, featured pianist Cliff Smalls, drummer Osie Johnson and percussionist Candido Camero de Guerra, with whom Chambers would continue to work throughout much of his career. Reviews of this recording are generally positive and mention is made of Green’s “singing tone”, particularly on “attractive versions” of “Travelin’ Light” and “Body and Soul”. The band was described at the time as “congenial” but, as is often the case with bass players, no mention was made of Chambers’s contribution. The album includes a spirited if unpretentious version of the standard “Sometimes I’m Happy” but an overly sentimental rendering of the tune “Laura” is undermined by the somewhat clichéd (or is that simply dated?) percussion of Candido Camero de Guerra. Green’s tone is well represented in this rendition of “Body and Soul” but the vocals on “Say Jack!” do little to improve its superficiality. “One Track” is aptly titled as the head consists entirely of a one-note riff, albeit phrased rhythmically (ironically, even Jobim’s “One Note Samba” has more than one note in it!). Other tracks included on the CD version of this album are two takes of “Groovin’ the Blues”, the afore- mentioned “Travelin’ Light” and “Hi-Yo Silver”. Another early leader who chose to use Chambers to provide the pulse for his work was be-bop pioneer, pianist George Wallington who recorded with the bass player shortly after his arrival in New York. Wallington, who was born in Palermo in Sicily on 27 October 1924, arrived in the United States as a babe-in-arms in 1925. His presence during the early development of be-bop is often treated as a mere footnote but Wallington’s involvement in the jam sessions that nurtured the developments of be-bop was sufficiently robust enough for Gillespie to employ him in his own quartet. Alongside bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach, this line-up of the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet was the first be-bop small group to appear on 52nd Street, in 1943–44. Gillespie, in his own biography, described Wallington as:

a quiet student of our music. He wanted to learn how to play

modern jazz piano, and he’d heard about me and sought me out … George Wallington fitted in so well, because he stayed outta the way, and when he played a solo, he’d fill it up; sounded just like Bud [Powell]. 13

Freddie Redd, Paul Chambers, Art Taylor and Coleman Hawkins, 2 July 1955 (photograph by Warren

Freddie Redd, Paul Chambers, Art Taylor and Coleman Hawkins, 2 July 1955 (photograph by Warren Fowler. © Warren Fowler).

The Wallington recording in which Chambers was involved, “Live! At Café Bohemia”, took place at the famed New York venue in September 1955. The band took the form of a quintet which, in addition to Wallington and Chambers, included trumpeter and fellow Detroit native Donald Byrd, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and drummer Art Taylor. Chambers was to record with each of these three Wallington sidemen on many occasions throughout his career, as both a sideman and leader. McLean’s part in Chambers’s story is much more central, however, and will be discussed later. Other early gigs Chambers recalled included performances with Joe Roland (b. 17 May 1920):

a wonderful cat who plays vibes. He wasn’t quite as big as he should have been because he used to work with George Shearing, messing around, like going to hit and missing – all that baloney. We had a wonderful group down at the Club Bohemia with George Wallington, for about six months straight. It was wonderful because there was actually no leader and we all could do what we liked. There was Jackie McLean, Don Byrd and Art Taylor. We made some sad records, because they were just trying out that recording scene in the night clubs then. 14

More famously, around this time, Chambers worked several jobs with the dual trombones of J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. His earliest recordings with J.J. Johnson took place in New York on 6 June 1955 and involved a quintet that, in addition to Chambers and Johnson, included tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Horace Silver and fellow Pittsburgh native, drummer Kenny Clarke. The tunes recorded that day were “Pennies from Heaven” (two takes), “Viscosity” (two takes), “You’re Mine You”, “‘Daylie’ Double” (two takes), “Groovin” and “Portrait of Jennie”. The released version of “Pennies from Heaven” opens with Chambers playing the last half-chorus of the tune’s melody over Horace Silver’s still developing and unusually light piano and Kenny Clarke’s already famous ride cymbal. This introduction ends when Johnson’s trombone enters, followed closely by Mobley’s tenor saxophone. The opening cut is a neat arrangement in which the opening eight bars feature the famous melody played by the tenor and trombone in unison, followed by eight bars of Johnson’s solo trombone. The second sixteen bars feature the second version of the eight-bar melody with the closing eight featuring Mobley on a be-bop-inspired but slightly more lyrical offering. Johnson’s muted solo shows the quality of tone and smoothness of execution on which his reputation was built and is underpinned by a Chambers walking bass line. While lacking the strength of tone and time that would mark his later work, the line shows the twenty- year-old Chambers to be a credible professional even at this early stage in his career. The lines behind Johnson’s muted solo are particularly gratifying and the bouncing swing that is created by Chambers and Clarke is delightful. Chambers follows Silver’s piano solo with a sixteen-bar solo that features phrasing that already contains elements of his mature vocabulary and features rhythmic figures that the young bass player would have heard in the playing of Parker, Gillespie and the growing number of be-bop acolytes to which he was then looking for inspiration. An alternative take of the tune shows a remarkable consistency between the solos that Chambers played over the changes Johnson had prepared for the tune. The solo is not “learned” (despite their reputation for spontaneity, jazz musicians, at this point, were not above learning a solo by rote in order to ensure consistency in performance) but there are rhythmic and melodic similarities that point to the possibility that Chambers was, during what would have been an early session in his profes- sional career, playing it relatively safe. Other highlights from the session included a curt “‘Daylie Double”, with its stabbing intro and clipped melody line, against which Chambers plays a strong but measured pedal G, the dominant chord for the song’s key of C, raising to B flat after eight bars and incorporating a short walking line. The pace is demanding but Chambers never flags throughout the 4½ minutes or so of the tune (or, one could easily argue, for the rest of his career). A little over a fortnight later, on 23 and 24 June, Chambers returned to the studio with J.J. Johnson, this time accompanied by fellow trombonist Kai

Winding, pianist Dick Katz and Osie Johnson, drummer and Chambers’s colleague from the Bennie Green recordings discussed earlier. The first of these Johnson/Winding sessions produced recordings of “Give Me the Simple Life”, “This Can’t Be Love”, “Trombone for Two”, “We Two” and “Let’s Get Away from It All”. On the second day of recording, the band caught on tape versions of “Turnabout”, “It’s Sand Man”, “Close as the Pages in a Book”, “The Whiffenpoof Song” and “Goodbye”. Despite his growing presence on the jazz scene in New York and evident skills, Chambers was not willing to allow himself to become complacent and he sought to continue his formal studies, this time calling upon the skills of the principal bassist with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, Phillip Sklar. On 28 June 1955, Chambers joined a couple of new faces in town in a session that was a first for many of its participants. The Adderley brothers, Julian “Cannonball” and Nat, appeared on a session led by drummer Kenny Clarke, this time for the Savoy label. Cannonball would later recall:

Nat and I first recorded together on Savoy, with Kenny Clarke. Kenny set up a date with Herman Lubinsky, and Ozzie Cadena, who was Herman’s representative, on Savoy. “Bohemia After Dark” (Savoy 4514): my first recording, Nat’s first, Paul Chambers’s first, Donald Byrd’s first, Jerome Richardson was on it, Horace Silver we did Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya, Bohemia After Dark, lots of beautiful things. That led to my first date as leader, “Presenting Cannonball” on Savoy (45151 with Hank Jones, Kenny, Paul Chambers, Nat and me). Then Nat did his first date as leader, “That’s Nat,” on Savoy (MG 1.2021). Then we signed a contract with Mercury, and started to take care of business there. Paul Chambers was an instant genius. He fit right into things. He was probably the most important bass player of that era. I don’t mean that he was more important than Ray Brown, in terms of his playing and so forth, but Ray Brown was playing with Oscar Peterson, he was not a date player, when he played dates it was for that Jazz At The Philharmonic group thing – and Paul was there in New York and just doing it. 15

As Adderley has noted, a couple of months later, on 14 July 1955, Chambers entered the studio for his first recording with the alto saxophonist as the session’s sole leader. Adderley had still only been in New York for a relatively short period before this recording was made. It has been reported that, the day after he and his brother arrived in New York, Adderley visited the Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village where Oscar Pettiford was playing with reed player Jerome Richardson. The late arrival of Richardson provided Cannonball with a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform in front of a New York audience. A notoriously impatient Pettiford, it was alleged, was reluctant

to allow Cannonball to play and, in an effort to discourage the new arrival, the bassist counted off a fast-paced “I’ll Remember April”, fully expecting to force yet another chastened pretender off the stage as he had Chambers some time earlier. The rest is folklore. Cannonball played his way out of obscurity and onto the New York grapevine. A recommendation from trumpeters Quincy Jones and Clark Terry resulted in Bob Shad, of the EmArCy label, signing Cannonball to an exclusive contract. Jones and Terry clearly had Shad’s ear as the producer had not even heard Cannonball before the contract was signed although this was by no means unusual practice for Shad. Bill Crow recalls a deal the producer made with a quintet he shared with Bob Brookmeyer and Clark Terry: “In December 1964, Bob Shad at Mercury records (who never came down to hear us) agreed to have us do an album for the Mainstream label”. 16 The July session also featured Cannonball’s brother, Nat Adderley, on cornet, Chambers’s Michigan colleague, Hank Jones, on piano and another fellow Pittsburgh native, albeit twenty-one years Chambers’s senior, Kenny Clarke on drums. This early Chambers recording included performances of “Spontaneous Combustion”, “Little Taste” (2 takes), “Still Talkin’ to Ya”, “Flamingo” and “Caribbean Cutie” (also 2 takes). The album was called simply The Cannonball Adderley Quintet (Savoy MG 12018). “The leader’s alto was still very much under the shadow of [Charlie] Parker, but he played with an unspoiled enthusiasm”. 17 A week later, on 21 July 1955, Chambers was among the musicians who joined Adderley and his brother Nat for the first of a series of three recording dates for EmArCy. The session involved a larger band and also included the Adderley brothers, tenor saxophonist and flautist Jerome Richardson, trombone player Jimmy Cleveland, baritone sax player Cecil Payne, pianist John Williams and, again, drummer Kenny Clarke. The session produced recordings of “The Song Is You”, “Cynthia’s in Love”, “Hurricane Connie” and an old popular tune, “Purple Shades”. The second session, dated 29 July, featured trombonist J.J. Johnson in place of Cleveland, and captured “Cannonball” by Julian Adderley, “Nat’s Everglade”, not surprisingly by Nat Adderley, and the standard “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to”, a tune that would appear intermittently throughout Chambers’s recording career. The same line-up, albeit with Max Roach replacing Kenny Clarke, returned to the studios again on 5 August when “Willows”, “Fallen Feathers” and “Rode Room” were recorded. The record was released as the eponymous Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (EmArCy MG36043). The opening tune, Adderley’s autobiographical “Cannonball”, opens with a brief solo alto introduction before the band enters. The piece, a different composition to the 1976 Joe Zawinul tune with the same title, is a thirty- four-bar sequence, played by the composer with backing figures from the sidemen, and takes the form of an AABA structure with a two-bar tag at the end. The chordal structure is simple but delightful, allowing Chambers to

underpin the harmonic movement with simple root notes. Chambers, still in the early days of his twentieth year, plays remarkably solid, generic walking bass, featuring mature note choices and a highly developed tone, maintaining the momentum of the piece in a manner which shows clearly the gifts that would quickly draw attention to themselves. The standard “Willows” opens with a repeated four-note figure, played by the front-line horns, building tension that is released only when Chambers enters with a three-note ostinato which is strangely underpinned by the melody (rather than the other way round). “Nat’s Everglade” shows signs of Nat Adderley’s debt to Ellington while “Cynthia’s in Love” is a further indication of the all-pervading influence of the Duke and, for Cannonball, the inevitable references to Johnny Hodges. The Jerome Kern standard “The Song Is You” opens in a fairly stilted manner, with what can best be described as a dated swing. Chambers’s lines jump between written parts, faux-Latin implications and an unremarkable swing. Williams solos competently before Adderley puts us out of our relative misery by taking the head out. The bop-influenced “Hurricane Connie” lifts things more than a little and Adderley allows himself to relax into a more robust series of choruses. The performance features some nice interludes from the horns and Chambers

plays the arrangement beautifully but straight and could easily have passed as any one of Ellington’s bassists (with the possible exception of Jimmy Blanton). No shame there but little inspiration either. “Rose Room” could be described as an early attempt at hard-bop but Adderley would have to toughen up a little before he could approach a genre that was still being defined. Cecil Payne plays creditable baritone before the younger Adderley sibling again offers his services. “Rose Room” is interesting for the tension between Chambers’s bass lines and the drumming of Max Roach. From the point at which Payne begins the solos, Roach sounds as

if he wishes to take the piece into double-time but, throughout, Chambers

stubbornly maintains a sedate walk. The tension remains throughout Williams’s piano solo, highlighted by the stark relief of the naked rhythm

section. Is this an early indication of an under-developed area of competence on Chambers’s part, an indication that he still lacks the stamina to maintain

a fast walk? If it was, it was a shortcoming that Chambers would quickly

address. In fact, the tension created by a fast drum groove and a half-time bass line is a texture that Chambers would feature throughout his career, with various drummers. “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to”, the Cole Porter tune originally written for the stage show “Something to Shout About”, opens with a pseudo-fugue played between Adderley and the other horns. The melody of this particular standard is one of the strongest in the repertoire and it is a shame that Adderley did not allow Chambers to solo on this tune as, with hindsight, it would have afforded us the opportunity to directly compare an

early Chambers solo with several that he would record later in his career. It is a significant frustration that Chambers was denied the opportunity to solo throughout this date but, to be fair to Adderley and to producer Bob Shad, bass solos, as we would come to know them, were still a relatively rare occurrence in the mid 1950s and this omission would not have been obvious, even to Chambers himself. At this point, Chambers was also still relatively untried and his presence was still unlikely to impact upon the sales of a record, as it may have done later. Later critics, again with the benefit of hindsight, describe the recording as offering “little in the way of creative succour” 18 but they do acknowledge the evident skills of this new voice on the alto saxophone. The Adderley album is not considered a classic in the way that some of his later work would be but it does offer us the experience of hearing the young Paul Chambers and the still reasonably unseasoned Cannonball together at the dawn of their respective careers. Chambers and Adderley would record again on many occasions, sometimes with more lasting and significantly more acclaimed results. Returning to his work with J.J. Johnson, Chambers went on to record several times with Johnson and appears to have been the trombonist’s first-call bass player for several months in and around 1957. On 11 April 1957, Johnson, Chambers, Max Roach and pianist Tommy Flanagan entered the studio for the Columbia label and recorded “I’ve Got You under My Skin”, “Harvey’s House”, “Nickles and Dimes”, “That Tired Routine Called Love”, “For Heaven’s Sake” and “Paul’s Pal”. On 26 April, the same musicians recorded “Cry Me a River”, “Hello Young Lovers”, “100 Proof” and “What’s New?” while, on 3 May, “Kev”, “Gone with the Wind” and “Blue Trombone (parts 1 and 2)” were given the Johnson treatment. On 14 May, the band completed its attempts to monopolize the studios of New York by recording “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “Teapot” and “Old Devil Moon”. Chambers continued to produce the goods with Johnson, as both leader and sideman, throughout 1957 recording again with the trombonist on a Sonny Rollins Quintet session dated 14 April. Rollins, Johnson and Chambers were joined by Horace Silver and Art Blakey in a session that produced “Why Don’t I?”, “Wail March”, You Stepped out of a Dream” and “Poor Butterfly” while Thelonious Monk replaced Silver on the pianist’s own composition “Misterioso”. A session with tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, dated 19 December of that year, also included both Chambers and Johnson in performance with the leader, trumpeter Kenny Dorham, pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Charlie Persip. This session produced versions of “Hymn to the Orient”, “Blues on Down” and “Namely You”, while a later session, involving the same players just two days before Christmas of 1957, produced “Reunion”, “Venetian Breeze” and “Out of the Past”. The resulting LP, The Modern Touch, is a credible enough product but not one of Golson’s best. A much later session with Johnson and Winding, dated 3 October 1960, involved Johnson, Winding and Chambers along with pianist Bill Evans and

drummer Roy Haynes. The session produced a take of “This Could Be the Start of Something”. The same line-up returned to the studios on 2 November of that year to produce “I Concentrate on You”, “Blue Monk” and “Side by Side”. (Bass player Tommy Williams replaced Chambers for sessions that took place later that month, possibly because Chambers would still have been busy with another, more renowned, bandleader.) Despite the high levels of mutual productivity that was displayed during this short period in the careers of both Chambers and Johnson, the two men would only record together one more time during their respective careers, on a date with the Elvin Jones Septet in 1965.

3 Chambers’s Music

In making a niche for himself on the New York scene, Chambers’s apparent skills were already being noticed by some fairly influential people, the kind of people who could make or break careers. In July of 1955, Miles Davis was seeking to put together a quintet for an engagement at Chambers’s new home from home, Jimmy Giarofolo’s Café Bohemia on Barrow Street. While Davis was fully aware of whom he wanted to book for the dates involved and already had Sonny Rollins, Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones on board for the gig, the bass chair was proving more difficult to fill. Davis had used Oscar Pettiford, the original musical director at the Bohemia, only a month before, and Percy Heath had been a regular sideman during this period in the trumpeter’s career; but, for some reason, neither musician was available. It was at this point that the intervention of an excited Jackie McLean resulted in Davis using a relatively unknown young bass player just in from Detroit, Paul Chambers. As has been noted, McLean had been working alongside Chambers in pianist George Wallington’s band and was sufficiently impressed with his band-mate to make the recommendation to Davis. Davis also credits McLean with introducing him to the drummers Tony Williams and Art Taylor. Clearly, during the fifties and sixties in New York, McLean was the man to know and had the ear of the legendary trumpet player. Miles Davis later recalled his first encounter with Chambers in his autobiography: “Everybody was raving about Paul … When I heard him, I knew he was a bad motherfucker”. 1 Chambers would later recall:

When I was playing at the Bohemia, Miles used to come down and listen. He was trying to get a band together and that was when I joined him. He probably thought I’d fit in with his group, and we had a very wonderful thing, with Red Garland, Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones. That was about 1955 … 2

Red Garland made his own contribution to the gathering of this new quintet:

I got a telegram from Miles asking me if I knew anyone in Philadelphia who could play tenor sax. I told him I knew a cat named John Coltrane and Miles asked me, “Can he play?” and I told him, “Sure he can”. John and I met him in Baltimore. Meanwhile, Miles had found a kid out of Detroit, named Paul Chambers, and he played bass for us. Philly Joe was still on drums. We had never played together until the night of our first gig, so we got together about five in the afternoon and jammed. From the opening tune we clicked. We just clicked right away, and that was that. We stayed together from ’55 to January 1959. 3

Bill Crow recalls seeing Chambers at the Bohemia around this time:

… when he joined Miles and they played at the Café Bohemia in the Village, three blocks away from my apartment, I hung out there a lot and listened but I didn’t get to talk to Paul much … Paul wasn’t an easy guy to get to know. The few times we ran across each other, he was not at all talkative. 4

Whatever his social persona, Chambers was turning heads in other ways. Around this time, Miles Davis gave an interview with Davis Hunt for the Saturday Review in which he stated: “Paul Chambers is the best bass player I’ve heard in years. And he likes to play! When we were in Los Angeles in 1955 with the group, Paul used to knock on my door at eight o’clock at night and ask, ‘You ready to go to work’”. 5 High praise indeed from a man who had previously employed Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus, Percy Heath and another Detroit bass export, Al McKibbon. Fortunately, on 13 July 1955, the Wednesday of what could have been this line-up’s first week at the Café Bohemia, the first live recording featuring both Davis and Chambers took place. The set included the standard “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the Davis classic, composed by Richard Carpenter, “Walkin’” (also listed as “Rollin’ and Blowin’”). Davis biographer Jack Chambers suggests that the latter performance contains what could have been Chambers’s first solo on a Davis recording, an arco exposition that hints at what was to come and promises much. Jack Chambers records that Paul Chambers’s “contri- bution throughout is simply outstanding”. 6 Clearly, Chambers impressed Davis during the engagement, as much, if not more than, he had McLean. The young bass player fitted in neatly with Philly Joe Jones and Red Garland, creating a rhythm section that showed considerable promise. The three men would go on to become the backbone of what posterity continues to refer to as “the first great Miles Davis Quintet”.

Although he now had all but landed what was potentially the highest- profile sideman gig on the planet, the arrangement remained informal at this point and Chambers continued to work independently of Davis. On 6 September 1955, at the Mercury Sound Studios on Fifth Avenue, New York, Chambers, still only twenty years old, contributed to a further session organized by producer Bob Shad for Verve Records. This time, the session involved two former colleagues who were fast becoming one of the most famous sets of brothers in jazz, cornetist Nat Adderley and alto sax player Julian, and formed the basis of the LP Introducing Nat Adderley (EmArCy). The irony is that the LP in question didn’t actually introduce the leader as he had recorded an earlier session for the Savoy label on 26 July 1955 (the bass player on the earlier session was an old Ellington sideman and unconscious mentor to Chambers, Wendall Marshall. The earlier recording was released as That’s Nat Adderley). In addition to Chambers and the leader’s brother, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, the session included twenty-seven-year-old pianist Horace Silver, fresh from his birthday celebrations four days previously, and, on drums, from Roxbury, Massachusetts, a twenty-nine-year-old Roy Haynes. In 2000, Haynes would later indicate that he considered Introducing Nat Adderley to be “a record that I think is gonna become more important than it was”. 7 Of the ten tunes that appeared on Introducing Nat Adderley, nine of them were composed either by Nat or by his older brother. The exception was the Stordahl and Weston standard (to which Sammy Cahn had put lyrics), “I Should Care”. “Little Joanie Walks” draws the listener’s attention to Chambers for the first time on this date. “Two Brothers” hints at a Dixieland groove, and the slightly dated feel of the composition may be indicative of the Adderley brothers’ provincial perspective. Another brief walked solo by Chambers also confirms that, despite his obvious strengths, the bassist is not yet fully formed. The composition “Crazy Baby” is beginning to lean, albeit only slightly, towards the Adderley brothers’ later hard-bop/soul-funk sensibilities and provides a backdrop for another Chambers solo. This solo carries several of the ideas that would begin to find their way into his later work and, while this contribution is not yet as confident as it would be on his later performances with Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Lee Morgan, it is apparent that something powerful is developing at the rear of the stage. This something is more convincingly evidenced by Chambers’s bowed solo on the aptly titled “New Arrivals”. At this point in jazz history, there were still very few bass players who soloed with a bow, let alone any who did so convincingly in the be-bop idiom. While the solo is not as daring, nor, indeed, as swift, as some of his later work, even four decades or more later it is not difficult to see why the ears of the musical fraternity were pricking up at the intriguing sound of Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers Jr. With a melody that hints at Ellington’s “Beginning to See the Light”, the tune is a light-hearted

affair but the beauty is in its detail. The solos are becoming increasingly confident as the session progresses. Haynes is particularly strong on this tune and, even listening to the performance some fifty years later, his idiosyncratic use of the snare drum, particularly while trading fours, is unmistakable. “Fort Lauderdale”, a tribute to the Adderley brothers’ home town, is a little faster than “Sun Dance”, although the nature of the melody periodi- cally leaves the forward momentum of the piece temporarily suspended. Following a series of solos by Cannonball, Silver and Nat, Chambers enters with a half-chorus pizzicato bass solo which would have impressed had it been played by any of the other three soloists. As a bass solo, it is indicative of the blossoming talent of the tall young man just in from the Motor City. “Friday Nite” is the most generic be-bop head of the set, possibly due to the unison saxophone/cornet arrangement. Cannonball pays homage to Parker albeit lacking the rhythmic drive of his mentor. Silver doffs a cap to Bud Powell, while Nat fails to match Gillespie’s fire, preferring instead to use his stronger tone to good effect. Chambers then lets loose with another cutting- edge bowed bass solo before Haynes rounds things off in his own inimitable fashion. Haynes would later express his feelings for the bass player on this date, one of his earliest as a professional musician. “Paul Chambers died young. He left a lot, with Miles. But he doesn’t seem to get as much credit as he’s due, from where I sit”. 8 Although the band was already functioning as a working group, having debuted as a quintet at the Club Las Vegas in Baltimore on 27 September, 9 Chambers accepted the formal invitation to join Miles Davis in October 1955. Still only twenty years old and having arrived in New York only a matter of months earlier, Chambers would not be the youngest player ever to impress Davis; drummer Tony Williams would later join Davis in 1963, aged only seventeen. It would later become apparent that Miles had been impressed by Chambers’s bass playing when their paths crossed briefly in 1953 (Davis had visited Detroit after ridding himself of his addiction to heroin) but the bass player had to wait another two years before the offer of the acclaimed Davis bass chair was made. Suffice to say, subsequent events would prove testament to Davis’s apparent perception of the potential of a new voice. The Miles Davis group line-up that Chambers joined included, as has been stated, pianist Red Garland and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Joseph Rudolph Jones was the senior member of the 1955 Davis Quintet. Born on 15 July 1923, Jones was twelve years older than Chambers, at an age when twelve years was all but an eternity. William “Red” Garland was born in Dallas on 13 May 1923. Having started on clarinet and alto saxophone, Garland had committed to the piano as his instrument of choice at age eighteen. His recorded influences included early piano stars like Count Basie and Nat Cole and, later, Art Tatum and Bud Powell. Like Jones, Garland had worked with Charlie Parker and his résumé

included work alongside saxophonists Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Completing the quintet on saxophone, the post-war jazz lover would experience a very different sound than that of July 1955; instead of the relatively accessible improviser that was Sonny Rollins, they would be greeted with the considerably less conventional and more challenging tenor saxophone of John William Coltrane. As with Chambers, Coltrane wasn’t Davis’s first choice for the tenor chair but Rollins, who would have been the trumpeter’s saxophonist of choice at that time, was then in Chicago attempting to rid himself of a heroin addiction. (Despite this missed opportunity, Rollins would record with Davis again, in 1956, after a spell with the legendary, if ill-fated, Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet.) Legend has it that Coltrane was invited to join the band following a telephone call from Philly Joe Jones. Chambers, along with Red Garland, was among the many associates of Miles Davis who had recommended Coltrane to the trumpeter when he was looking to replace his preferred saxophonist, Rollins. Later, Chambers and Coltrane appeared to have developed something of a close relationship in that the lives of the two men would be intertwined for many years, during both their early development and subsequent successes. Coltrane actually moved his young family into Chambers’s Brooklyn apartment in June 1956 while looking for a permanent address of his own. 10 Ann Chandler recalls the period of cohabitation: “I remember John and his wife Naima came to New York. They lived with us for a short period of time, maybe a month or so”. 11 Porter confirmed the arrangement: “Coltrane, Naima and Syeeda had moved to Manhattan in June 1956, staying in hotels or at Paul Chambers’s apartment”. 12 Chambers had also introduced Coltrane to another of his earliest mentors, the pianist Barry Harris. Harris was a musician who had a sound reputation as a teacher and theorist. Previous students included the pianist Hugh Lawson, trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer and alto sax player Charles McPherson. It was Harris who introduced Coltrane to Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, the acknowledged source of much of the material that Coltrane would practise during his intense periods of woodshedding. Slonimsky’s work still has currency among improvising musicians today, primarily due to Coltrane’s acknowledged use of the book. The relationship between Chambers and Coltrane was, therefore, both personal and profes- sional and the two men would record together on many, many occasions, in bands led by each of them in turn as well as in groups led by Miles Davis and others. The buzz surrounding this 1955 line-up of the Davis group had begun as soon as they made their first public appearances. Chambers’s arrival on the Davis bus was quickly causing a stir among the jazz cognoscenti. In 1955, Leonard Feather described him as “a sure contender for honors in the 1956 critic’s [sic] poll”. 13 The first tour by this band after Coltrane joined soon took

the group to Detroit, Chambers’s home town since he was fourteen. Miles

recalled that the musicians enjoyed the tour, not simply because of the quality of the music being played every night but because of the camaraderie that was developing. “We were having a lot of fun together, hanging out, eating together, walking around Detroit. Paul Chambers was from Detroit and I had

lived there and so for us it was like a homecoming

The Quintet was soon working hard and was playing at some of New York’s most established jazz clubs. Some of Chambers’s earliest engagements with the first Davis quintet took place at Birdland, where the young bass player had cut his New York teeth upon arriving in the Big Apple. Davis had signed a contract guaranteeing him twenty weeks a year at the club and the first of these commenced on 13 October 1955. At the end of this engagement, on 27 October, Davis found time to record three tracks for Columbia: Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha”, John Lewis’s “Two Bass Hit” and Bud Powell’s “Budo” (a fourth performance, of Jackie McLean’s “Little Melonae”, may have taken place that day but the recording in question has also been dated as having taken place in March 1958). “Ah-Leu-Cha” was one of Charlie Parker’s more sophisticated composi- tions and is, not surprisingly, pure be-bop. The lines being played by Coltrane and Davis weave playfully around each other before the soloing starts with Davis. The listener is immediately drawn to the driving bass lines, Chambers pushing the horn player to his best, demanding that he deliver. Coltrane is a lot tighter than Davis and creates a well-constructed and focused solo before Garland takes his turn. Chambers’s power is again in evidence as the pianist bounces his ideas of the momentum created underneath him. “Budo”, previously recorded during Davis’s Birth of the Cool sessions, is a warmer affair, marginally less frantic than the Parker head but no less intense as a result. The highlights of the piece are the ensemble passages at each end, neatly executed by all concerned. Other early residencies which called on the Davis band included the Café Bohemia and a Basin Street engagement that included a recording for the Steve Allen Tonight Show. Chambers returned to the studio with Davis on 16 November to record six more tunes for Prestige (Davis was, around this time, meeting his obligations to this small independent label before moving over to the larger record company with all its inherent benefits) before beginning a second engagement at Birdland on 24 November. A further booking took place on 8 December at the Blue Note in Philadelphia from which two tracks were broadcast: “Tune Up” and “Walkin’” (also listed, curiously, as “Royal Garden Blues”, a Dixieland staple: an error one would think unforgivable). The Davis band then travelled to Washington for a week at Olivia Davis’s Patio Lounge and to Philadelphia’s

Blue Note. 15 A third Birdland residency took place late in December 1955, while other early bookings resulted in Chambers appearing, with Davis, for a couple of residencies at Jazz City in Los Angeles and a couple of weeks at The Blackhawk in San Francisco.

Detroit was a gas”. 14

His induction into the Davis stable was to be the beginning of Chambers’s rise to jazz celebrity, if that is not too much of an oxymoron. Miles recalled:

“They [Columbia] made everybody in the band – Philly Joe, Red [Garland], Paul – all of us, stars”. 16 It is apparent that the standards for originality and creativity that Davis maintained throughout his career were in evidence at this time. In an interview for the jazz magazine Downbeat, published in November 1955, Davis described his ambitions for the line-up in question:

“I want this group,” says Miles, “to sound the way Sonny plays, the way all of the men in it play individually – different from anyone else in jazz today. We’ve got that quality individually; now we have to work on getting the group to sound that way collectively. As we get to work regularly, something will form up and we’ll get a style.” 17

Chambers, however, was soon to receive plaudits in his own right. As early as 1957, Ralph J. Gleason wrote: “I would rank Chambers as one of the best bassists in jazz and certainly the most exciting performer on that instrument to appear in recent years”. Gleason continued:

He thinks of interesting, intriguing and beautifully logical things to play. He has excellent rhythm and supplies a fine pulse to whatever he is doing; he has all the technique to do whatever he wants. The combination of these produces a remarkable bassist. 18

Chambers continued to deliver, fulfilling his role as bass player with taste and maturity; Miles recalled that “Paul Chambers was the baby in the group, being only twenty, but he was playing like he had been around forever”. 19 Miles’s thoughts about Chambers went on record in a Downbeat interview in 1955 when he offered a concise affirmation: “Whew! He really drove a band. He never stops”. 20 The grind was continuing, the Davis group serving its time at the Oyster Barrel in Quebec and at Storyville in Boston. It was around this time that Chambers’s growing reputation resulted in Herbert Kimmel, founder of the Los Angeles-based Jazz West record label, giving Chambers the opportunity to enter the studios for his first commercially released session as a leader (as well as Jazz West, the Chambers’ Music LP was also released, as a whole or in part, on the Score, Blue Note and Imperial labels). The ensemble featured pianist Kenny Drew, Davis stablemate Philly Joe Jones on drums and, on saxophone, the soon to be legendary John Coltrane. These sessions took place at Western Recorders in Hollywood, California, on 1 and 2 March 1956 (there are some discographies that list this session as having taken place in March 1955 but this is unlikely, given the relative anonymity of Chambers at that time) and were engineered by Don Blake.

Paul Chambers at rest (photograph by Ray Avery. © Ray Avery/CTSIMAGES.COM). The Charlie Parker composition

Paul Chambers at rest (photograph by Ray Avery. © Ray Avery/CTSIMAGES.COM).

The Charlie Parker composition “Dexterity” is beautifully introduced as the bassist and Coltrane perform a relatively routine unison delivery of the melody, but the arrangement is rendered all the more effective by Coltrane’s (or Chambers’s?) choice to play the line on the lower range of his horn, more closely matching the frequencies of the bass. This gives the piece a brooding quality that would have been missed had Coltrane chosen to take the higher path. As was commonly the case with Parker heads, the tune is based on Gershwin’s legendary “rhythm changes”, namely the “AABA” chord sequence that underpins the Gershwin classic “I Got Rhythm”. When be-bop “composers” wrote tunes utilizing these chords, it was not uncommon for the melody to be played over the A-sections but, in an effort to build tension, for the B-section to be left open for designated soloists. On this version of the tune, Chambers takes the B-section in the first head, leaving the listener in no doubt that this is his date. Chambers plays the first solo, evidencing his mastery of the be-bop idiom, a mastery that was clearly getting him noticed even at this still relatively early stage in his career. His phrasing crosses the bar-lines in the way shown by Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and any student of Chambers would learn much by transcribing this solo. Coltrane comes next and the beginning of his solo gives an early indication of his developing the “sheets of sound” later described by Ira Gitler on the sleeve notes for Coltrane’s Soultrane album (Prestige 7142). 21 Kenny Drew is on form and his playing is of the standard we would come to expect but it is particularly interesting to listen to Chambers’s lines behind this improvisation. The band enters into a fairly routine sequence of “fours”,

trading solos with the drummer, who, on first hearing, can only be Philly Joe Jones. When taking the tune out, Chambers again plays an improvised solo over the B-section. “Eastbound” opens with a fast walk and Drew’s rhythmically displaced, blues-inflected piano. Coltrane brings the six-note melody in and we are given another thirty-two-bar AABA composition. The melody forms a four-bar question to which Drew responds. Again the B-section is left blank but, on this occasion, it is left to the rhythm section to make its mark and it does so simply by marking time. Drew plays it cool with a minimalistic “shout” chorus before the six-note call and its piano response takes us into Coltrane’s solo. Drew follows, again allowing us to listen to the way in which Chambers interacts with the soloist. This straight time-playing pays testament to the subsequent career that Chambers would have and to the esteem in which he was then and is still held. The Cole Porter composition “Easy to Love” is performed as a Chambers feature, the arco bass taking the melody over a peculiarly incongruent Kenny Drew piano and Philly Joe Jones’s brushes. Chambers take on the head is more than a little laboured. The use of a bass as a lead voice creates specific problems that few have overcome. The fundamental quality of the instru- ment’s tone makes it generally less attractive to the human ear and many melodies that work perfectly well on other instruments are rendered clumsy and awkward when taken as a bass feature. “Easy to Love” is one of these tunes and the bowed melody lacks any real beauty. Nevertheless, the chord changes are interesting and the arco solo commendable, unfettered as it is by the unremarkable melody. Drew’s solo is a short but jolly affair but the return of the incongruent melody stops the fun. Chambers’s own “Visitation”, based on the changes of the ballad “I’ll Know” from the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, is another substantive bass feature but, this time, the use of the bass as the main melodic voice is considerably more successful and Chambers makes the piece sing at least a little. Essentially a slowed-down be-bop head, the piece is a 32-bar made up of two sixteen-bar sequences with different turnarounds in the closing bars. The four choruses are a tour de force of modern jazz bass playing from that era and the full 4.53 minutes features the solo pizzicato bass of the session leader; 128 bars of Chambers’s finest. The trademark phrases are there; the phrase in the 22nd bar of the first chorus, for instance, reappears in the 18th bar of the second chorus and is paraphrased in 11th bar of the third (the same lick appears in bar 22 and 43 of his solo on Red Garland’s “It’s a Blue World” and the 2nd bar of “The Theme” solo from the Miles Davis LP Miles (Prestige 7041). But jazz solos are like American quilts – some of the patches may be the same but each collection has its own identity, its own individual character. “Visitation” is an impressive achievement and provides ample evidence that the praise being heaped upon the twenty-year-old bass player was not undeserved.

“John Paul Jones” is a fairly standard twelve-bar blues, played, with subtle variations, as a light, shuffling swing. Chambers has fun with his solo, opening an eight-note phrase that he uses to build tension as it repeats, with only the slightest variations, throughout the first chorus. The five-chorus solo is bluesy, ironically not always the case when musicians play the blues, and, at times, highly melodic. At around 3.10 we hear a rising triplet figure played on chordal tones, another phrase that would feature in several future solos. The phrasing is often behind the beat, creating a delightful tension and adding considerable colour to the improvisation. The last chorus of the solo is, like the first, based around a bluesy repeated riff and, using a conven- tional transition, ends with the first steps of the sure-footed walking lines that continue throughout Drew’s blues-drenched offering. The tune is taken out on a two-feel stroll. Much is made of the myth that a jazz musicians worth is judged by his or her ability to execute interesting and vibrant solos without ever repeating him/herself. A close investigation of even a relatively small number of transcriptions by Charlie Parker or John Coltrane will reveal that this is not literally the case as many phrases are repeated in different solos on similar tunes or in different contexts altogether. Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” is a medium-paced swinger with an interesting structure. The tune consists of a 10-bar melody played over a swing feel followed by 4 bars with a Latin tinge. The fourteen-bar melody is repeated before Coltrane gives us what would be a rather sedate solo by his own future standards. Coltrane is followed by Kenny Drew, who swings hard. Chambers’s solo on “Stablemates”, however, is a moment of magic. From the outset, it is strong but, as it builds, there is a rhythmic intensity that few bass players could then, or even yet, match. The sheer physical strength and stamina required to maintain that level of intensity are worthy of consid- eration and should not be underestimated. The Chambers’ Music LP, which carried the strap-line “A Jazz Delegation from the East”, received a four-star Downbeat review:

The fact that [the] date is certainly several cuts above the run-of- the-mill studio blowing session is due to a number of reasons not the least of which are the splendid rapport among the musicians and the obvious thought and care that went into its production … Chambers quickly emerges as the strongest voice of the group. His tone is firm and muscular; technique astonishing and completely subservient to its end; his ideas are fresh and spontaneous, conceived in long, looping horn-like lines of great warmth and power. And he is a pillar of strength in the rhythm section. 22

The material on Chambers’ Music has often been repackaged with the Curtis Fuller/Pepper Adams material from April 1955 but, in its original form, the LP was already a strong, balanced effort and something of which Chambers should

have been proud. Unlike the products released under the leadership of singers or horn players, however, it appears that no substantive interviews or press releases accompanied the release of Chambers’ Music and the leader’s views on the quality of the material released under his name was never canvassed in the music press. Having last recorded with Davis in November 1955, Chambers’s next studio date with the trumpeter took place on 16 March 1956. On this, less formal, occasion, the pick-up band featured Davis, Chambers, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, pianist Tommy Flanagan and drummer Art Taylor, performing three pieces including Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” and a Coltrane blues listed as “Vierd Blues” but later identified as the composition “John Paul Jones” which Chambers had recorded two weeks previously and which has also appeared as “Trane’s Blues” when released under the leadership of Coltrane. The third piece, entitled “No Line”, consisted of little more than a middle with no ends, beginning in what appears to be the middle of a Davis solo and ending, if that is not overstating it, with Chambers and Taylor in what appears, at least to them, to be a surprise duet. Chambers’s most significant contribution is his role in the arrangement of “In Your Own Sweet Way”. Jack Chambers highlights the “novel use of time that makes this melody work so well and interpolating stop-time intervals between the soloists”. 23 It could be argued that the performances recorded on 16 March could have benefited from additional rehearsal time or, at least, further takes, but the fact that the session was called simply as part of an outstanding obligation to Prestige would probably have militated against any substantive emotional investment from Davis himself. Flanagan clearly experienced the events of that day positively, later recalling the session in question with fondness: “It was my birthday, that’s how I remember, my twenty sixth birthday … We just cooked. All except that one Brubeck tune. That came about strangely. Miles had that tune in his back pocket – a sketch of the chords. I remember him telling me how to voice the intro”. 24 The increasing demands of the Davis band were continuing and, on 7 March, Chambers joined his colleagues for another residency, this time at the Pershing Hotel in Chicago. Further recordings took place with the Miles Davis All-Stars, linking Chambers with an old Detroit playmate, Tommy Flanagan, and the newly enthused Sonny Rollins, fresh from his previously discussed hiatus. Another early session that has found its way into the public domain saw Chambers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 20 April 1955, when he joined Curtis Fuller (trombone), Pepper Adams (baritone saxophone), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), pianist Roland Alexander and drummer Philly Joe Jones in the studio to record three tunes for the Transition label. The material recorded on this day appears to have been undertaken under the joint leadership of Fuller and Adams but the results have appeared on the market, at various times, under the leadership of Chambers, Fuller, Adams

or Coltrane, depending on which of these artists carries the most market appeal at any given time. There is some confusion surrounding the actual date of this session and different discographies have it listed as having taken place on the 20 April date in both 1955 and 1956. The fact that Chambers didn’t find himself in the Miles Davis bass chair until October 1955 suggests that the April 1955 date is unlikely to have been under his leadership. A more interesting point is that this session would appear to be the recording debut of trombonist Curtis Fuller. Curtis Dubois Fuller was born in Detroit on 15 December 1934, making him less than six months older than Chambers. Like Chambers, his early work had been with, among others, Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Burrell and Yusef Lateef. “High Step”, a Barry Harris composition, sounds a lot more dated than much of the rest of the material recorded that day. Adams takes the first solo and initially sounds like baritone innovator Gerry Mulligan but, as the solo progresses, the tone becomes less pure and Adams’s own personality reveals itself. Fuller is a little more restrained than he would later become on recordings like Coltrane’s “Blue Train” but the defined swing remains immediately identifiable. This relatively early example of the work of John Coltrane is still only beginning to show aspects of his mature style. Here, the saxophonist is still finding his way, although the solo would satisfy most saxophonists of his age. Chambers’s solo is confident and Jones’s accompa- niment is right on the money. A close listen reveals Chambers quietly singing along with his solo, a technique that serves to increase the investment he has in his improvisation and one that is evident throughout his recording career. The solo is well formed and flows logically right through to its conclusion. Following Jones’s chance to shine, the band takes the head out. “Trane’s Strain”, a Coltrane blues that did get released at the time on a Transition sampler, opens with a Chambers pedal tone underneath a brooding riff. Fuller opens the solos gently, his offering a little reserved and lacking the rhythmic impetus of his later work. Coltrane follows with something a little more assertive, his then unusually abrasive tone indicative of the contro- versies to come. Adams takes five choruses before Roland Alexander enters, showing himself to be a sober and unadventurous performer. Chambers, who has provided a pleasant bounce until now, picks up his bow for a strong if not aggressive solo featuring bowed double stops and double-time passages. The momentum falters momentarily as Chambers puts down the bow to take two more choruses of walking bass before allowing Philly Joe Jones to take a few choruses of his own. “Trane’s Strain” is not a classic performance by any means and Pepper Adams would later let his feelings be known about the project.

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on whether you’re a critic or a musician – the album was never released, but a single

blues track was put out on a sampler. The reviews of that track were so bad they never issued the album. 25

Adams’s perspective is something of a refreshing reality check for those musicians who believe that their idols can do no wrong! It is also apparent that his statement was made before a string of re-issues saw the results of the session released onto the market. Adams’s soliloquy opens “Nixon, Dixon and Yates Blues” before Chambers and Jones join him in his reverie. The baritone player is ready for this one and his solo is quietly confident. Following a break at the end of Adams’s solo, Fuller picks up the baton, underpinned by Chambers’s skipping two feel. Chambers breaks up the beat a little, something for which he would rarely be accused of, and the results leave one wondering why he didn’t take this route more often. Following an unusually considered Coltrane solo, Chambers enters again, toying with the pulse and expertly creating moments of tension and release within his solo lines. The solo is atypical and, while it is obviously the work of Chambers, there are rhythmic elements of this improvisation that are not commonly heard in his more routine performances (e.g. broken runs at around 5.10). Chambers’s next recording session was a 30 April quintet date with drummer and bop pioneer Kenny Clarke, providing the drummer with another five tracks for Savoy. Off then to the Café Bohemia for a week-long gig, during which Chambers would join band-mates John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones for a 7 May session with pianist Elmo Hope and, on the 10th, deliver another three tunes for the Clarke contract. Chambers had other reasons to celebrate around this time when, on 11 May 1956, Dorismarie Welcher gave birth to Chambers’s second son, Paul Terence Chambers.

J.J. Johnson took care of me, totally. I stayed in his house with him and Vivian until I had a baby. They went to Chicago on the gig, and Vivian Johnson told me “When I come back, you have a baby. I don’t want to see you like that anymore”. When she came back I had a baby, a baby boy. And then I found a new place myself on Hancock St., Brooklyn … Paul stayed at my place a lot. In Las Vegas, I went to meet him once and we had a little wedding [but never legally]. 26

The integrity of Dorismarie’s memories of these events is a matter for her but the Chambers’ family remains unequivocal to this day. Pierre Chambers has much to say about

my father’s life as a married man living with a woman he never stopped loving and would not divorce. My mother is the only Mrs. Paul Chambers living and no-one else has or will ever have that

claim to this day no matter what some women state. Yes, my father had women but he was only married to one and that is my mother Annie. 27

Whatever the events of 11 May implied for him, Chambers still found time to meet his obligations to the Davis band by attending another Quintet date scheduled to meet Davis’s obligation to Prestige. The details of that session will be discussed later. In the meantime, Chambers was continually engaged in recording sessions for a variety of labels and an even wider variety of artist. The 24th of May 1956 saw Chambers at another important session with saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones completed the rhythm section but the definitive aspect of the session was the inclusion of a John Coltrane performance on the LP’s title track: “Tenor Madness”. “Tenor Madness” is an unremarkable but much-rehearsed blues composi- tion. Coltrane, who was only visiting the session and hadn’t expected to play, takes the first chorus and Chambers and his colleagues provide a solid, if routine, backing. Rollins follows gently behind, more melodic and considered in his approach. Chambers, however, makes no discernable changes to his approach, simply maintaining the established pulse for the saxophonist’s solo. Chambers’s three-chorus solo is strong and well conceived. Coltrane commences a chase chorus, with each saxophonist trading choruses. This is not, however, a tenor battle in the sense that no one is trying to “cut” anyone. While the playing is of a high standard, fans of both players will be disap- pointed that the encounter didn’t live up to expectations. “When Your Lover Has Gone” opens with a pick-up line from Chambers and the tune is defined by his slinky walking bass. Rollins plays the melody in a lazy fashion which creates an engaging tension with the rhythm section. When a melody is played like this, there is always a risk that the rhythm section will slow down, consciously or otherwise, but Chambers, Garland and Jones remain true to the integrity of the pulse. Chambers’s solo provides an interesting example of his creative use of tempo. Jones maintains a steady ride cymbal as Chambers appears to race against it before pulling himself back behind the beat, racing off again and then surging back; the tension is palpable and entirely a consequence of the soloist’s decision making. “Paul’s Pal” is another Rollins composition, dedicated in friendship to Chambers. It is, not unsurprisingly, a friendly little tune, something that sits comfortably alongside many of the more unusual standards in Rollins’s repertoire. Looking back, Rollins was renowned for choosing unusual songs on which to base his improvisations and had already taken everything from “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, recorded in 1955, to “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” from the Bing Crosby movie White Christmas, as a starting point for his solos. Chambers’s solo works on its own merits but, more importantly, sits comfortably in the mood of the piece. Garland, a pretty pianist at all times, is also well suited to the ambience.

“My Reverie” is the ballad feature for Rollins but Chambers is able to take advantage of the slow tempo and plays a string of sixteenth notes that almost reaches from one end of the solo to the other. Its execution is meritorious but its content less worthy. Cut from the same show as another of their famous tunes, “My Romance”, Rodgers and Hart’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” was written to accompany a scene in a circus ring. Melodically, as Rollins takes the head in waltz time, it certainly sounds like it. The piece quickly changes its direction and launches into an up-tempo swing tune, familiar territory for the bass player. The tune features a strong arco solo from Chambers which opens with the tunes melody and settles quickly into rapid eight-note bowing. Tenor Madness remains one of Rollins’s most celebrated albums but this is as much to do with Coltrane’s presence as it is the qualities of material presented. Due in no small part to the perception of the LP as a meeting of giants, it would appear that posterity yearns for this to be an important recording, despite the fact that it fundamentally failed to live up to its perceived potential. Another early Blue Note session in which Chambers took part was led by his old Detroit compatriot, guitarist and leader of the Four Sharps, Kenny Burrell. The sessions for Introducing Kenny Burrell took place on 29 and 30 May 1956, when the guitarist was, himself, only twenty-five years old. A third Detroit musician joined the session in the form of pianist Tommy Flanagan. Drummer Kenny Clarke was also on the session, native of Chambers’s old home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with Cuban conguero, Candido Camero de Guerra. These sessions were, as was normally the case with Blue Note records at this time, captured by Rudy Van Gelder. Chambers, who was simultaneously working another residency at the Café Bohemia, is barely audible during the opening sections of the Arlen/Mercer composition, “This Time the Dream’s on Me”. The bass creeps into the mix at around the 0.43 mark and we are treated to some journeyman bass playing from an emerging voice on the instrument. The piece is quite racy and would have presented a relatively young bass player with difficulties had he not already addressed the fundamental issues of time and the techniques required to maintain an even pulse for the duration. “This Time the Dream’s on Me” clocks in at three seconds short of five minutes and many young players would struggle to sustain the momentum of a swing groove so consistently at this tempo, their stamina having not yet developed. Candido is omitted from the next tune, Burrell’s own “Fugue ’n Blues”, which opens with Chambers’s solo bass, followed by Flanagan’s piano and Burrell’s guitar attempting to create a fugue-like feel on a twelve-bar blues form. The idea is sound but the execution a little wanting. The interplay between all parties is evident and indicative of their shared musicality but there is little here to distinguish the performance from a thousand other twelve-bar Blue Note solos. Chambers’s own solo shows him to be almost

fully formed as a soloist, his debt to Parker and Gillespie evident in his choice of notes and general phrasing. Candido returns for the third track and second Burrell original, “Takeela”, making his presence felt immediately with a rapid-fire sixteenth-note salvo. The Cuban shows us that even percussionists can “quote” the work of others in their solos, utilizing the rhythmic phrasing of Dizzy Gillespie’s be-bop standard, “Salt Peanuts”, as he trades fours with Burrell. Chambers’s four-note repeated line during the opening and closing bars of the tune presages, in its general feel, Wes Montgomery’s opening riff on his own “Four on Six”, recorded in 1960. “Delilah” is very much of its time, right from the opening bongo roll. The theme, written by Victor Young, is taken from the 1949 Cecil B. DeMille movie Samson and Delilah but the piece says more far more about Hedy Lamarr than it does about Nasserites, Philistines and the Old Testament in general. Chambers walks throughout the piece and it is the juxtaposition between Chambers’s bass and Candido’s percussion parts that defines the groove. The original LP closed with Burrell’s “Blues for Skeeter”, the title being a dedication to New York guitarist Clifton Best. Chambers’s walking bass lines bounce along beside congas and ride cymbal. The groove remains consistent throughout Burrell’s solo, one of his best on the collection, and the mood is broken only by Chambers’s own arco solo. The highlights of this solo are the aggressive double stops that the bassist features in the opening bars of the third chorus. Another Arlen tune, “Get Happy”, is taken at a gratuitously fast tempo and, despite the hackneyed skeleton on which the performance is hung, is great fun. Chamber plays an ostinato line under the familiar melody at both ends, utilizing the root and fifth note of the scale, and walks behind the soloists. Candido Camero de Guerra had become something of a familiar sight on some of the sessions in which Chambers was involved and the two men bumped into each other regularly until 1964 when a Wynton Kelly session closed their shared recording experiences. Camero, fourteen years older than the bass player, was born in San Antonio De Los Baños, Cuba, on 22 April 1921, another significant musician, along with trumpeter Tommy Turrentine and bassists Charles Mingus and Barry Guy, to share Chambers’s birth-date. Camero had started playing bongos aged four and switched to drums when he turned professional aged fourteen. It wasn’t until he reached nineteen that Camero turned his attention to the conga. His experiences in Cuba gave him an exceptional grounding in this particular instrument and he worked in the house band at the Tropicana Club in Havana from 1947 to 1952. It was here that Camero was heard by trumpet legend and Afro-jazz pioneer Dizzy Gillespie who convinced him to move to the United States where his career continued. Camero also had some success as a bandleader in his own right and even led his own dates for Blue Note.

On 30 May, Downbeat published a review of the Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet recordings on Prestige. The reviewer, Nat Hentoff, drew particular attention to Chambers who “lays down a support that could carry an army band. His tone is full and never flabby and his time is right” (the reviewer also pointed out that Chambers had only one solo, on “The Theme” and that his bass was, in places “somewhat over-recorded”). 28 Another important session with Miles Davis took place on 5 June 1956. The Quintet recorded three of the six tracks that appeared on the first LP by the Columbia label, starting a new phase in the life of the Davis group. The tracks recorded on the 5th were “Bye Bye Blackbird”, “Tadd’s Delight” and “Dear Old Stockholm”. This version of “Bye Bye Blackbird” was to become something of a classic which has found its way into jazz legend and commercial fake books. The contribution of Chambers to the piece is immeasurable. His walking lines are pure swing, his time simultaneously solid and flexible, the perfect foil for any soloist. Davis is, as a consequence, able to settle into a beautifully phrased solo that breathes deeply. Like every living thing, it breathes because it has

a pulse and that pulse is generated primarily by Chambers. It is often felt

that the drummer is the member of any ensemble that provides all present with a definitive sense of time. While there is an expectation on all members of a group to find their own place in the collective consciousness that is the groove, it would be almost impossible for Philly Joe Jones to default on his obligations with Chambers nailing the groove so resolutely. Davis and Coltrane both excel on this take and the proceedings are only let down by Red Garland’s relatively unexciting solo. The time, however, remains impeccable. “Tadd’s Delight” is not unsuccessful but lacks the personality of “Bye Bye

Blackbird”. The groove is a lot faster and Chambers rises to the task but the overall effect is less engaging than the previous track. Ironically, the increased tempo forces Garland to step up a notch and his solo is less disappointing as

a result. “Dear Old Stockholm” opens with Chambers, Garland and Jones executing

a foreboding pedal. The melody provides a welcome respite but the head

is, again, defined by Chambers’s pulsating groove. Chambers opens the soloing this time and takes a couple of choruses backed only by brushes and an occasional backing figure from Garland. The solo is sophisticated but over-long and may have benefited from termination after one chorus. It is not particularly well recorded and the detail is difficult, though not impossible, to discern. The overall effect of the piece is patchy. George Avakian, on the original 1957 sleeve notes, calls it “misterioso” suggesting that Chambers’s solo “adds to the sensation of strangeness that pervades this moving performance”. “Dear Old Stockholm” has its moments but they are too often interrupted. Among the Miles Davis touring and recording obligations, Chambers still found time to work with other musicians. Some of the projects were less conventional than others. One of the more unusual dates, still in June 1956, found Chambers in a New York studio as part of a short-lived small group

under the joint leadership of tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and Julius Watkins on French horn, an unusual instrument to find in the front line of a small group. Julius Watkins was, himself, a Detroit native, having been born in the city on 10 October 1921. Fourteen years older than Chambers, Watkins would have been twenty-eight years old before Chambers even arrived in the city so it is unlikely that the two men had much to do with each other’s musical development. Watkins had been playing the French horn since he was nine years old but was sufficiently proficient on the trumpet to earn

a place in the big bands of Ernie Fields and Milt Buckner. After this early

part of his career, Watkins would specialize in the more demanding French horn and made a reputation for himself as the first French horn player to be able to execute bop lines with any degree of fluency. On 12 June, the line-up

consisted of Watkins, Rouse, pianist Gildo Mahones, drummer Ron Jefferson and Chambers with Janet Putnam (harp) on three takes and soprano Eileen Gilbert on two. The date was commissioned for the Dawn record label. “Blue Modes” is a lazy bop tune with a conventional twelve-bar form.

Chambers and Mahones lay out for the first four bars of each head, leaving

it to Jefferson and the two horns to announce the call. Watkins takes the first

solo and shows himself to be a capable soloist on his chosen instrument. Lacking the attack of its more conventional tonal cousin the trombone, the

French horn is not naturally adapted to the bop idiom but, while the horn is unlikely to have been able to compete against the breakneck tempos of the Parker and Gillespie bands, the delivery is credible and creative. Rouse takes

a more conventional bop solo and shows himself, like all great jazz musicians,

to have a character all his own. Mahones, a New York native who had turned twenty-seven years old ten days before this session, is a lesser-known figure in the history of the music but his credentials are impeccable. The pianist had played at the famous Minton’s Playhouse under the leadership of no less than vibraphonist Milt Jackson and had also spent three years with Lester Young. His solo here is journeyman bop. Chambers takes a two-chorus solo, packed full of classic Chambers lines. This early in his career, it is evident that Chambers is quickly finding his mature voice, his solo here carrying many of the hallmarks of his later work. “Garden Delights” opens with Putnam’s harp and Eileen Gilbert’s soft soprano accompanying Watkins’s French horn. The effect is an aural chocolate box, full of white doves, budding flowers and babbling brooks. After this peculiar 52-second prelude, the piece begins to warm up and, after a cadence from Mahones, starts in earnest at 1.14. The subsequent swinger, featuring Rouse moving into and out of a unison/counterpoint effect, is reasonable fare and Chambers’s swinging lines try very hard to move the piece along. “Town and Country” is a highlight and motors along at over 300 beats per minute, although the nature of Watkins’s horn part, the long, languorous notes, creates the illusion of going nowhere fast. Rouse reacts positively to the energy created by Mahones, Chambers and Jefferson and plays a strong,

if short, improvisation before handing the baton to the pianist. Jefferson cuts

the time in two for Watkins’s solo which, despite the loss of momentum, swings readily and melodically. Rodgers and Hart’s “You Are Too Beautiful” is the first of the two tracks that featured harpist Janet Putnam. Her presence provides cause for a degree of consternation. The piece is, to all intents and purposes, a conven- tional thirty-two-bar song form ballad; Chambers’s playing is routine, as is Jefferson’s, but Putnam’s arpeggios and harp solo create a Hollywoodesque, dream-like quality that pushes the piece into different territory altogether. The inscrutably entitled “Two Songs” is well written and arranged and is a credit to all its participants, particularly Chambers, whose walking groove gives the piece much of its energy. Les Jazz Modes (later translated to “The Jazz Modes” for the less cosmo- politan members of the listening public!) was in existence for a little over three years, undermined by the efforts of Atlantic Records to point the group at the pop market. A lack of bookings would eventually lead to the group calling it a day. As well as working as a freelance musician on Broadway, Watkins would go on to contribute to a range of important recordings in the company of Chambers including several by Miles Davis and Gil Evans. Chambers then travelled to Chicago with the Miles Davis Quintet for

a three-week engagement at the Crown Propeller in Chicago. A couple of

routine Miles Davis sessions followed before 17 August 1956 saw Chambers working a trio session under the leadership of Red Garland. Alongside the dependable Art Taylor, Chambers was back at Hackensack for another Prestige date, recording seven tunes for A Garland of Red, the first of several Red Garland Trio LPs featuring this line-up. Other pianists were booking the bass player for their recordings and Hank Jones had Chambers back at Van

Gelder’s on 21 August for a Savoy date including reedman Bobby Jasper and drummer Kenny Clarke. The saxophonists in the Prestige stable were also calling the bass player, and the label would use Chambers for a Jackie McLean Quintet date the following week and another all-star tenor saxophone-led date a week or so later, this time featuring no less than four saxophonists including John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. The Tenor Conclave LP was not considered to be a high point of anyone’s career, least of all the rhythm section’s, but, whatever strengths Cohn and Sims had as a pairing, Coltrane and Mobley come out sounding more comfortable with the situation. The Tenor Conclave album remains a curiosity for saxophonists wishing to compare the various combatants rather than its inherent value in purely musical terms. On 10 September, another Davis session at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio captured three tunes, two of which would be released on ’Round about Midnight, the Davis debut for the label. The first track recorded that day was Cole Porter’s “All of You”, a personable tune made more so by Davis’s delicate mute. Chambers’s two-feel adds to the sense of intimacy and the swaying

groove dances lightly before the band kicks into a straight swing, heating up slowly during Coltrane’s solo. By the time Garland enters, the bounce created by the bass and drums has become irresistible. “Sweet Sue, Just You” didn’t make the debut LP (it appeared much later on

a compilation LP that accompanied a television programme in which Leonard

Bernstein sought to explain jazz to a confused audience). The composition is a serious piece and sounds a lot more profound than its title suggests. Chambers is again locked in, with the harmonies remaining less obvious than on many of the other tunes the band were playing at the time. The tension created as a consequence is palpable. Even Garland fails to water this one down. Davis’s entry after Garland finishes is hair-raising, a moment of real ecstasy from a man that gave us many. “’Round Midnight” (which inadvertently gave the Columbia release its erroneous title) is one of the definitive moments in the trumpeter’s career and deservedly so. The arrangement is not obvious; Coltrane’s backing figures are subtle; Chambers, Garland and Jones are reticent yet supportive. The melody positively bleeds emotion while Chambers works sensitively to create some interesting counterpoint to the leader’s rendering of Monk’s evocative melody. At 2.45, the arrangement changes tack dramatically with a fanfare that announces Coltrane’s move to the fore for his own solo. To his credit, he manages to put his mark on the event without undermining the overall integrity of the performance, making this one very much greater than the sum of its parts. For the closing bridge, Chambers plays it straight. On 15 September, Chambers and the Davis Quintet broadcast live on Mutual’s American Bandstand, 29 playing two tracks: “Well You Needn’t” and “It Never Entered My Mind”. A few days later, on 20 and 26 September 1956, Kenny Drew undertook a recording that has often been credited as the pianist’s first date as a leader. There was, however, an earlier series of sessions for Pacific Jazz recorded November and December 1955 which preceded this Riverside date. The 1956 dates featured Drew, Chambers and Philly Joe Jones and were produced by Orin Keepnews and Bill Grauer. The LP opens with a confident Philly Joe Jones snare crack. Jones opens

a rapid sixteenth-note rhythm on the snare drum with the snare turned off, utilizing the rim-shot to add colour to the pattern. Chambers enters with a repeating ostinato against which Drew plays the melody to the Juan Tizol- penned Ellington classic “Caravan”. Chambers and Jones swing hard through the bridge before returning to the opening pattern to complete the head. Drew solos hard on this opener and it is useful to listen to the relationship between his left-hand playing and the be-bop solo in the right hand. “Come Rain or Come Shine” opens with a C-pedal before the trio enters with an interesting arrangement of the Mercer–Arlen classic. The first four bars of each A-section are in regular 4/4 time while the second four are in 6/8. The effect that this creates is amusing but Drew chooses to solo over a straight but nevertheless strong swing feel. Chambers’s bass is well recorded

and sounds huge and clear, as it does throughout this recording. His solo uses some interesting phrasing as the bass player seeks to incorporate a half-time triplet feel at various points but chooses to play these triplets with a behind- the-beat feel that creates the impression that he has momentarily lost the groove but, as always, Chambers recovers with sufficient grace to allow the listener to cast this impression aside as nothing more than a trick of the light. Monk’s Ruby, My Dear” is characterized again by Chambers’s willingness to play the part with appropriate taste, nothing more or less. “Weird-O” is the first Drew original on the LP and, to the credit of Drew and Keepnews, the piece is wholly congruent with the rest of the material on the album. The tune has a slightly Monkish feel but unsurprisingly lacks Monk’s personality. Chambers’s walking line underneath Drew’s solo is textbook stuff and the quality of the recording, coupled with Drew’s reticent left hand, allows us to hear every nuance of Chambers’s time-playing. Chambers plays a bowed solo on this one and shows himself to be fully in control of the bow. What is always intriguing is how quickly Chambers dispenses with the bow when his solo finishes and the walking bass returns. There is time, the pause between solo and walk is evident, but the change in the positioning of the right arm is significant and Chambers always managed this manoeuvre without any drop in tonal quality. “Taking a Chance on Love” is another example of the strong swing that defined the musical relationship between Chambers and Jones. Chambers initially solos off the melody before a long string of rapid eighth notes evidence his mastery of the be-bop vocabulary. The arranged ending is indicative of at least a little pre-session rehearsal and rounds the piece off nicely. After a solo introduction, Drew ambles through a tune made famous by Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, Washington and Harline’s “When You Wish upon a Star”. Chambers plays the piece fairly straight albeit with some colour but one is left wondering where Bill Evans would have taken the tune with Scott LaFaro. Despite its shortcomings, the piece serves as an interlude before Drew’s second original on this record, “Blues for Nica”, a typical pianistic blues of the type that became particularly popular during the hard-bop era. Classic Chambers walking blues bass lines are so solid you could drive a train on them. Chambers solos strongly and the improvisation is worthy of study (a transcription of this solo is one of several blues solos featured in Jim Stinnett’s valuable book of Chambers transcriptions. The Music of Paul Chambers). “It’s Only a Paper Moon” is another piece of hard swinging and features another Chambers solo of some value. Chambers plays the notes of his solo evenly and doesn’t swing them as he often did. If one listens to a collection of Chambers solos end to end, the difference is striking and indicative of a process of consideration being given to the process of improvisation rather than simply going through the motions. Many of the textbooks on jazz refer to the classic swing feel as the playing of the first and third beat of a triplet, a simple idea that generations of so-called “classically” trained musicians have

nevertheless struggled with for the last century or more. In reality, many soloists abandon the swing feel in their solos and play straight notes, conse- quently, when used with care and consideration, creating a considerable amount of tension between the soloist and the rhythm section, where the triplet feel remains in place. The Chambers solo on “Paper Moon” is a classic example; listening to the relationship between Chambers’s solo and Philly Joe Jones’s ride cymbal is evidence of this phenomenon. The arrangement during the final bridge is worthy of note as the melody plays second fiddle to the trio’s stabs. The Kenny Drew Trio is not listed amongst the classic jazz piano trio recordings but is, nevertheless, a strong album and, for those listeners partic- ularly interested in Chambers’s work, well worth seeking out. The day after the first of the two dates described above, on 21 September 1956, Chambers would record material for the second of his solo LPs and his first on the Blue Note label. Joining the bass player on this occasion were Davis band-mates Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones, his Detroit colleagues trumpeter Donald Byrd and guitarist Kenny Burrell and, completing the sextet, pianist Horace Silver. Whims of Chambers contains three Chambers compositions, namely “Dear Ann”, “Tale of the Fingers” and the LP’s title track itself. Coltrane penned two of the remaining tunes, as did Byrd. The structure of Donald Byrd’s composition “Omicron” is based on Dizzy Gillespie’s composition “Woody ’n’ You” with the addition of a pseudo-Latin introduction and coda. The “Latin” tinge here is idiomatically unsure of itself and both Chambers and Jones appear to have got their knowledge of Latin music forms from the dance halls of North America rather than from the genre’s areas of origin. Once the tune enters home territory, however, the band sounds immediately more confident and the piece progresses in a hard-bop vein. The tune follows a standard thirty-two-bar AABA structure and, during the head, Chambers takes the middle eight, opening with a strong rhythmic riff that crosses the pulse, ending on a more conventional eight-note swing. Coltrane opens the soloing and the listener is treated to an early audience with the developing legend. Coltrane is yet to wear the badge of explorer as confidently as he would later on but that famous tone is beginning to make its presence felt. Byrd takes a purposeful chorus and holds his own with few difficulties. Burrell swings hard, although, to be fair, the omnipotent rhythm section give him little choice in the matter. For some reason, Byrd takes another chorus before Chambers indulges himself with a chorus of his own. Silver’s piano solo begins tentatively, lacking the sure-footedness that would define his later work. The drum solo is unmistakably Jones and takes the band into the final head. Byrd and Coltrane offer some hesitant backing figures to Chambers’s middle eight but sound as if they weren’t altogether sure that they were supposed to come in at this point. The fading Latin passage that ends “Omicron” is incongruent and, whatever its merits, it belongs elsewhere.

“Whims of Chambers” is a simple blues form, penned by Chambers himself, which opens with Chambers and Burrell, backed only with Philly Joe Jones on brushes, playing the first chorus of the head in unison, an octave apart. Pianist Horace Silver enters for the second chorus before Chambers takes the first solo. The solo is classic Chambers and holds many of the signature phrases that would find their way into much of his work. Backed only by Jones on brushes and some very delicate comments from Silver, the solo builds over its three choruses and is comfortably resolved as Chambers starts to walk under Silver’s bluesy piano solo. Burrell follows next and his solo, initially reserved, opens into a flurry of notes, before relaxing again towards a melodic, swinging resolution. The final head is arranged much as the first but with some interesting fills from Silver and the piece ends on a confident, almost pianistic, Burrell chord. An early Coltrane composition, “Nita”, consists of a thirty-bar sequence, an unusual length in itself but the interest goes beyond a matter of simple mathematics. Named after Coltrane’s wife, Juanita, “Nita” is structured in an AAB format in which the two A-sections are eight bars long and the B fourteen. The last eight bars of each chorus are underpinned by a definitive pedal tone that delineates between each chorus, building the tension before the two-bar break that forms a link with each subsequent chorus of soloing. The complexity does not stop there, however, as Porter points out:

Not only is the length unusual, but it doesn’t need to return to the A-section at the end of the chorus. This piece also introduces the fast moving ii-V-1 sequences a third apart that fascinated Coltrane and eventually culminated in the composition “Giant Steps”. 30

Byrd solos first and his tone and attack, while lacking the assuredness of Lee Morgan, earn him a valid position in the resulting performance. Burrell plays with that classic jazz guitar sound that went some way to defining the voice of the instrument during this period in its idiomatic development. Coltrane comes in strong and confidently, offering a solo that would leave little doubt that this was a player to watch. Silver enters the fray more reticently but the resulting solo doesn’t do his reputation any harm. Jones is, again, aggressively sure of himself. “We Six”, another Byrd composition, is a lot more melodically sophisticated than much of the other work on this recording and, along with “Omicron” (named from a letter from the Greek alphabet, by the way), evidences the trumpeter’s skills as a composer. His solo is one of his better offerings on the LP while Coltrane’s comes in a close second. Chambers takes a bowed solo this time, backed by Jones on hi-hat, ride cymbal and some other indis- tinguishable form of percussion. Burrell remains on top of his game and assertively swings through a couple of choruses before Silver takes his own turn. The pianist is much more confident on this tune than he has been so far

and the overall performance benefits as a consequence. The out chorus feels like a celebration of a job well done and deservedly so. The next tune is entitled “Dear Ann” and is a composition that Chambers dedicated to his wife. Burrell introduces the tune with a solo guitar prelude setting up the performance before Byrd takes the tender melody. Silver takes the first solo and Burrell the second. Chambers’s own solo is, however, the centrepiece of the tune although the solo feels a little frantic and the pudding over-egged. The continued buzzing of his bass is again evident and the potential of the solo undermined at least a little as a consequence. “Tale of the Fingers”, the third Chambers composition on the recording, is a thirty-two-bar trio performance that opens with four choruses of Chambers’s bowing. The tune is based on the changes for Gershwin’s jingoistic “Strike Up the Band”. The sound of the bowed bass is still a curiosity to this day, never really having found its way into the mainstream of jazz. The sound remains an

acquired taste, lacking the purity of a cello or viola, and it can sound rasping, particularly when played at these tempos. Chambers did have his critics in terms of the sound of his bowed bass but he did have his advocates also and, here, Chambers makes the most of the opportunity and offers a solo that is both melodic and inventive. Silver follows Chambers with an unspectacular solo before the bass player exchanges bowed fours with Philly Joe. “Just for the Love” is the second Coltrane composition on this date and, ironically, it is probably the inclusion of this tune and of the earlier “Nita” that has allowed this recording to remain in the catalogues of Blue Note. At the time of its recording, Coltrane was still a new voice on the scene and his inclusion carried little currency. His subsequent ascent into jazz mythology has meant that these early works have become more worthy of close inspection. “Just for the Love” is essentially a twelve-bar blues but the composition extends well beyond the normal confines of the form. The Whims of Chambers album has its faults; as has been noted, Chambers’s bass sounds more than a little buzzy at times, a phenomenon that can arise when the height of the strings against the fingerboard is adjusted a little too low. Nevertheless, the quality of the compositions is of a generally high standard and some of the performances are exceptional. Overall, the LP

is a successful collection of performances by some of the developing voices of

the day and, indeed, of several legends in waiting. Some of the performances captured on 21 September 1956 continue to find their way into the public domain, usually packaged under the title of “early Coltrane”. Whatever the motivation for releasing the product, the material is worth seeking out and,

while not necessarily essential listening, even for Coltrane buffs, the overall delivery is most certainly greater than the sum of its parts and the product should be given a hearing by anyone interested in Chambers’s development as

a leader. Whims of Chambers remains a collection of which Chambers could be proud.

Nat Hentoff’s short review of the LP, in which the critic gives Whims of Chambers four stars, appeared in Downbeat on 6 February 1957:

Further proof of the intense skill, pizzicato and arco (hear Six and especially Tale for bowmanship), of Paul Chambers. Paul also moves authoritatively in the molten rhythm section. Silver and Burrell solo strongly. On the sextet tracks, the growing Coltrane blows a modern-bop version of shouting, angular tenor that can be strikingly moving once this uncompromising idiom becomes familiar to the listener. Byrd is effective. Of the originals, Ann is the most immediately attractive, mainly perhaps because of the oasis of relatively simple lyricism it provides in this collection of largely blues-fisted open passion. Paul ought to be commissioned by Blue Note, incidentally, to do a piano-bass set and more of quartet conversations like the two here. 31

Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of his own work, there was little time to sit back and reflect. The pace of work for Chambers at this point in his career shouldn’t be underestimated. The bass player was playing a four-week residency at the Café Bohemia that had started on 31 August. During that residency, he recorded enough material for six LPs including his own solo LP Whims of Chambers, the four-saxophone package that was Prestige’s Tenor Conclave, a Jackie McLean session, also for Prestige, and a Kenny Drew Trio date for Riverside as well as a straight-to-air television appearance with his main employer Miles Davis. The pace was gruelling but Chambers was making his presence felt in more than a practical sense. The young bass player was still a fresh face on the scene but he was already influencing developing players.

The first bass players I heard were the guys on the records with Bird, Curley Russell and Tommy Potter. There were also guys with Stan Kenton, like Don Bagley, and the bassists with Jazz at the Philharmonic. But the first guy who was really distinctive to me – when I was 19 or so – was Paul Chambers, who I heard on all those Prestige and Riverside records. There’s an underrated player! He had a way of playing chromatic notes in his bass lines that was just unreal. He would go up in to the high register, and then skip down, tying it together. He had this great sound, and this great time. I used to see these pictures of Paul in jazz magazines, and it always looked like his eyes were watering, like he had tears in his eyes. One night the Miles Davis quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones came to Jazz City, a club off of Hollywood Boulevard, across from Peacock Lane. I went

by myself and sat in the front row right in front of Paul. I stared at Paul Chambers the whole set. Man! You could sit in front of these guys and feel the power. The feeling of spontaneity from each musician allied with the technical

part: the harmony, the voicings, the cymbals, the bass

it could have generated electricity.

I know if I had got to sit in front of Bird, Bud Powell and Fats

Navarro, it would have been the same power. So, I was watching Paul Chambers to see if he had tears in his eyes. It looked like he did. He looked so great playing, man. Then, when the set was over, he came right over to my table. “Man, you were looking at me the whole time!”

I told him my name, and that I was a bass player, that I loved

his playing and that every picture I had seen of him and on stage

tonight it looked like there were tears in his eyes.


He looked at me for a moment, and said, “I do. I cry.”

I said, “Man! That is so great!”

He asked to sit down and we hung out for a minute. Look at

a picture of Paul Chambers: something about his features is like

somebody who was feeling life very deeply. Really something. 32

4 Workin’ with Miles

During the first year of his tenure with the Davis Quintet, Chambers would enter the studios with the band on two separate but highly significant occasions in order to fulfil the trumpeter’s outstanding obligations to Prestige. Davis had recently signed with Columbia and was already recording for the major label. With particularly skilled negotiating, Davis had managed to get agreement from Prestige that he could start working for Columbia immediately as long as any new material he recorded was held back for release until after his Prestige contract had finished. In order to fulfil his contract with Prestige, however, Davis still had some work to do. On 11 May and 26 October 1956, the band entered the recording studios of Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey, where, over the two sessions dated above, they recorded a mammoth twenty-six tunes which would eventually be released on a quartet of interre- lated albums: Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’ and Steamin’. The tracks listed during these sessions included what would later be considered some of the Quintet’s classic recordings, the arrangements that continue to inform if not define performances by contemporary players. Each of the four records includes its own highlights but it may be considered more appropriate to judge the material as the products of two distinct sessions: one held in May and the other in October. Following on the heels of a residency that the Davis Quintet had shared with the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop, the May session produced the greater amount of material. At this date, the Quintet recorded thirteen of the fourteen tracks that would form the basis of the Workin’ and Steamin’ LPs. The nature of these recording sessions, in which all the material produced, bar one track, were reportedly “first takes”, provides us with a clear indication of what the Quintet would have sounded like at this early point in its development. The lack of preparation or of complex or sophisticated arrangements allows us to gain a sense of how this particular collective of musicians worked at wringing the best out of the repertoire.

The Workin’ selection opens with Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind”. The tune opens with a routine arpeggio from Garland, over a pedal tone from Chambers, creating the fabric into which Davis bleeds his muted (and slightly out-of-tune) horn. Davis paints an emotional picture, his horn cracking and splintering as he squeezes the melody out. Chambers’s reticence again shows his innate musical maturity while Jones’s brushwork is sublime; any critics who suggest that Jones was overly bombastic should be directed to this performance. Davis’s own “Four” is taken at a much steadier pace, although it is by no means frantic. The use of space during the first couple of choruses of his solo is classic Davis: considered, always reticent, never verbose. Coltrane is on the cusp of a change and Garland is a little hotter but the groove created by

Chambers and Jones during the piano solo is a delight, the two men pushing Garland along gently but assertively. The bass player’s tone presents a striking contrast to the drummer’s ride cymbal and the total absence of any grace notes provides for a seamless swing. “In Your Own Sweet Way” is probably one of Dave Brubeck’s most famous tunes and definitely one of his prettiest. Davis’s phrasing on the head swings lightly but beautifully and the support offered by Garland, Chambers and Jones is the envy of front-line players the world over. Coltrane’s improvi- sation begins thematically before moving into slightly more radical territory,

if radical is not too strong a word for this atypically gentle Coltrane solo. The

mood set by Davis has served to contain Coltrane’s more excessive impulses, adding weight to the argument that the temperamental differences between these two men did much to enhance each other’s playing. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

“Trane’s Blues”, unsurprisingly a Coltrane composition, had seen the light of day in a previous guise, having appeared on the Paul Chambers LP, Chambers’ Music, under the title “John Paul Jones”. The line-up on that occasion had included Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones but with Kenny Drew in place of Red Garland. The tempo on the earlier version had also been significantly slower. Following a measured solo by Davis and a somewhat tougher statement by Coltrane, the rhythm section relaxes to swing gently behind Garland’s subtle solo. Subtlety is what defines the relationship between the rhythm section and each of the very different soloists on “Trane’s Blues”. There is a quiet strength behind Davis that toughens slightly as the more aggressive Coltrane enters. The commencement of Garland’s solo is met by a springier feel from Chambers and Jones, no doubt in part a consequence of Garland’s change of role from two-handed accompanist to one. Chambers’s solo opens with

a characteristic melodic riff but quickly evolves into a sophisticated solo (a

transcription of this tune is again available in Jim Stinnett’s The Music of Paul Chambers). There is what sleeve note author Jack Maher refers to as

a “Salvation Army” moment before the final head, a written passage which would have warmed William Booth’s heart.

“Ahmad’s Blues”, an Ahmad Jamal composition, is home territory for Garland, whose stylistic resemblance to the Pennsylvania pianist was allegedly what attracted him to Davis, who had often publicly celebrated Jamal’s use of space and dynamics in his own work. The creeping texture of the tune is intriguing and, although the piece is a feature for Garland, Chambers’s contri- bution is definitive. His walking lines are deeply evocative but the bowed solo is sharply executed and expert, the bass player making his mark in earnest. This version of “Ahmad’s Blues” would also later find its way onto a later Red Garland LP The P.C. Blues, alongside material from a dedicated session by the pianist. On the Workin’ LP, a third Davis composition follows in the form of “Half Nelson”, a tune Davis had performed during his tenure with the Charlie Parker Quintet. The groove is, as is often the case, a little pinched as Chambers moves up the neck of his bass but, as he returns to the lower frequencies the groove quickly reestablishes itself. This performance differs from the other seven on the LP in that it was recorded at the 26 October session and not at the 11 May event. The line-up is consistent, however, and the tune is equally at home as its bedfellows. A second rendering of “The Theme” terminates the package that was Workin’. And it certainly was. Maher’s sleeve notes paid testimony to the rhythm section when describing his experience in seeing what started as a lacklustre performance by the same quintet at the Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village but which, through the intervention of the trio, became a triumph:

the feeling created by the rhythm section on

dispelled the aura of tension that had affected everyone, and replaced it with a secure calm. And the feeling that the rhythm section created that night at the Bohemia is in just about every one of the tracks [on Workin’]. The time is alive and flowing. It is relaxed and controlled and in no way overbearing. More than any one other thing, I believe that much of the Quintet’s and Miles’s real strength and success come from the combined efforts of Red, Paul and Philly Joe. 1

one trio selection

Despite having been recorded at the October session, the first of the four albums that was released was Cookin’ (Prestige 7094) and included four tracks, “My Funny Valentine”, “Blues by Five”, “Airegin” and a medley of “Tune Up” and “When Lights Are Low”. “My Funny Valentine” has been recorded by Davis on more than one occasion during his career (usually as “live” recordings) but discographies show this October 1956 version to be his earliest version of the tune on record. After a particularly understated opening from Davis, the tune builds beautifully. Chambers’s support is unstinting, his sophisticated pedal during the opening bars of the bridge a particular thrill. The tone of the bass is a little

tight for the ballad section but the half-time walk during Garland’s solo is subtly inventive and the tone increasingly congruent with the pianist’s muse. Chambers is unusually kinetic during the piano solo and his lines create a delightful counterpoint to the pianist’s figures. Davis’s own “Blues by Five” is a relatively conservative, medium-tempo, twelve-bar blues in which Chambers takes a five-chorus solo of his own. The bassist develops a solo that builds in intensity over the first two choruses, utilizing rhythmic, rather than thematic, development as his vehicle of choice. The tension peaks during the third chorus before relaxing a little as the fourth and fifth choruses resolve. In a Downbeat review published on 19 September 1957, Ralph J. Gleason described this specific Chambers solo as “particularly gratifying”. Garland uses Chambers’s solo theme as the opening line for his exchange of fours with Jones. The Sonny Rollin’s composition “Airegin” follows next. This particular performance opens with Chambers playing an intense ostinato against Garland, over which Coltrane plays a short riff. The Davis arrangement is peculiar in that it sounds as if the trumpeter has moved a two-note phrase from the fourth bar of the melody to the third (the underlying count remains straight). Chambers sounds like he is not altogether sure what to make of the interruption in flow. Chambers goes on to join Jones in holding the breakneck groove together and it is the trio’s support for Coltrane’s soloing that marks the performance out as extraordinary. What is interesting in this particular performance is the relative strength that Chambers brings to his walking lines compared to his Latin grooves. Davis’s own “Tune Up” opens the closing medley and is taken at a tempo even faster than “Airegin”. Davis’s solo is a lot stronger, despite the speed, but, as the composer of the tune, one would expect his familiarity with its structure to give him some advantage. Chambers’s bass line suffers a little from the thinness of tone that often marks tunes taken at these kinds of tempo – too fast for the bass notes to form and the instrument’s natural overtones to react to the initial impetus. The depth created by this process, the very characteristic that defines this instrument, particularly in the case of Paul Chambers, is denied us at this speed and, while marvelling at the sheer athleticism of the events unfolding, the tonal majesty of the occasion is lost (the same phenomenon explains the difficulties that early electric bass players had in making a band swing in the conventional sense. The rudimentary amplification available in the early days of electrification, coupled with a lack of experience – or precedent – for many of its players, rendered the early electric bass sounds thin and lifeless when compared to those of the more established double bass). The tune segues into a much gentler “When Lights are Low”, the bass immediately improving in tonal range and depth. Everybody sounds considerably more comfortable (and infinitely more musical) under these conditions and the rhythm section soon settles into a delightfully cohesive swing groove.

The now requisite five-star Downbeat review, again by Ralph J. Gleason, is unequivocal in its praise:

All the tremendous cohesion, the wild, driving swing, and the all-out excitement and controlled emotion that was present at the best moments of the Davis Quintet has been captured on this record. 2

The quality of the music recorded during this period is apparent and it is therefore no surprise to find the LP Relaxin’ listed in June 1997 by Bass Player magazine as among the thirty “essential” bass albums “you must own”.

On this classic 1956 Davis date with Coltrane, drummer Philly Joe Jones and pianist Red Garland, Chambers’s modern, forward- thinking approach is evident via his strong, relentless, melodic walking lines on such tracks as “If I Were A Bell” and “I Could Write A Book”, as well as his brief, bluesy, be-bop rooted solo on Sonny Rollins’ rhythm-changes romp “Oleo”. 3

Frank Loesser’s “If I Were a Bell” opens with the lovely bell-like notes of Garland’s piano pitched against Chambers’s pedal. The bass takes a half-time feel for the head but launches into a bouncing walk during the Davis solo. The walk continues to support Coltrane’s saxophone but is heard to best effect behind the latter half of Garland’s solo, whose single lines in the right hand allow for the bass to stand out agreeably. “You’re My Everything” opens with an aborted start as Davis turns to Garland with a request for block chords. The tune is a warm ballad and shows Davis at his best. Chambers plays some interesting, if arguably unsuccessful, double stops behind the melody but redeems himself as the trumpet solo closes and the saxophone enters. His lines are unobtrusive, providing nothing but support and succour for the horns. Bassist Jerry Jemmott, who made a career for himself playing with a range of artists such as B.B. King, has specific reasons for enjoying this particular piece, as he told Bass Player magazine’s Chris Jisi in 1994:

I was shy, withdrawn, and “lost” during my early childhood. Fortunately I was “found” at the age of 10 by the great bassist, Mr. Paul Chambers when my sister Janet played the Miles Davis Quintet recording of “If I Were a Bell”. And I declared “That’s what I want to do!” The persistently passionate, articulate and funky bass lines that Paul laid down lit a fire in me, as they still do today. 4

The version of “Oleo” to which Bass Player magazine drew its readers’ attention is fast be-bop and there are some interesting moments during the solos, when Garland and Jones drop out, leaving Chambers as the only support to the

soloists Davis, Coltrane and Garland. The band kicks in for the second half of Coltrane’s solo and is firing on all cylinders. After Coltrane, Garland is left alone with Chambers for another run through and Davis takes another chorus before a reprise of the Sonny Rollins’s head (beautifully reframed by Chambers’s counter-melody) and an eight-bar bridge from the bass player. There is no bass solo per se on “Oleo” but the arrangement of soloists with bass-only backing provides Chambers with a real opportunity to shine at what he does best, an opportunity the bass player grabs with both hands. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ’n’ You” is another fast be-bop tune and Chambers shows himself to be perfectly comfortable at these tempos. Ron Carter would have a lot to say about this recording when he was asked to comment upon it by his own biographer, Dan Ouellette.

When this series of records came out, what impressed me the most were the rhythm section arrangements. For me, it wasn’t so much the library but how the band sounded. You can hear on this track how the rhythm section is such an integral part of the band, which hadn’t been done in this fashion before. Up to that point in jazz history, you had great soloists like Charlie Parker or Sonny Rollins whose rhythm sections were pulled along by their genius. This is the first clear instance of a group where the rhythm section was as important as the soloists. You can hear on this tune how Red, after Miles’s solo and before Trane’s, was setting up these figures in the background. Then there’s no piano at all. He’s laying out. He’s participating in the tune in a way that to me was a startling development for the rhythm section. No one has written about this new development – at least, not to my knowledge.

Carter also drew attention to another specific element of this recording’s success:

Another factor is the recording of the rhythm section itself. Today there’s an unfortunate trend of “bass natural”, where the player does not use a pickup. I could use this record to point out why that isn’t a good idea unless you have an engineer with expertise to help you out. Without an amp you have no chance to be heard. I want my sound to be heard from the door of the club, especially if I’m playing with somebody like Tony [Williams]. But before the days of pickups and amps, Paul went to Rudy’s on weekends to figure out how to get the bass sound right when recording with Miles. Otherwise, when Red played the piano, you wouldn’t hear Paul’s bass. So, if you listen carefully here, you don’t hear the bass drum prominently, but you do hear Philly Joe’s

cymbals, and Red is recorded more in the background, so you can hear Paul. From this point on, Rudy understood how to record the bass. He set the standard for recording bass on disc. That still holds true 50 years later. Paul’s bass is really present here, but he’s not playing 1-3-5 but 9s and 11s and flat 5s. If you investigate his bass lines, you’d increase your awareness of playing harmonically. You can hear the warmth of his bass, and notice there’s the snare and high-hat, but no bass drum, and the piano is laying out. 5

Of the LP Steamin’, Richard Cook would later discuss the rhythm section’s contribution thus:

as Coltrane solo ends, Garland enters. As he does so, the mood changes back to an almost breezy good humour. Garland’s gift for lightening an atmosphere is matched by Chambers and Jones in the way their rhythms move to a sort of bumptious funk. For Davis [Chambers and Jones] … play stealthily, for Coltrane they toughen up and buttress his wanderings, but for Garland they seem to fuse with the pianist, and when he moves to a locked-hands stroll on his second chorus, the feel is perfect. 6

“The Surrey with the Fringe on the Top” is taken at a slower pace than the later version by Wes Montgomery and the swing is less convincing as a result. The groove is, nevertheless, engaging and a perfect foil for the considered approach taken by Davis. Chambers and Jones take a slightly tougher approach to supporting the slightly tougher Coltrane and the transition is marked. The feel is again lighter for Garland, who always seems to play his solos an octave higher than anyone else. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” is aggressive be-bop, tightly arranged and neatly executed. Chambers’s lines pass by at a lightning speed and it is to his credit that they sound wholly congruent. Ironically, close attention reveals that is it Jones’s ride cymbal that occasionally stalls, albeit momentarily, rather than Chambers’s bass although the tune turns into a Jones feature, the arrangement revisited only briefly before closing. “Something I Dreamed Last Night” is another definitive Davis performance. Chambers takes the straight route through it but is never less than impeccable. “Diane” is a routine and unremarkable swing tune but Chambers enjoys a confident walk along its well-worn paths. Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” sees the two horns enjoying a juxtaposition of the angular theme but, from Chambers’s perspective, the performance is workmanlike until the arco solo interrupts the flow. Some interesting trills and the occasional double stop are incor- porated into the improvisation and the solo is all the more interesting for it.

Steamin’ closes with Victor Young’s “When I Fall in Love”; the tune is an absolutely perfect foil for Davis but the warmth created by Chambers’s tone in underpinning the lead voice should never be underestimated. Don Gold’s contemporaneous Downbeat review of Relaxin’ was as positive as Cook’s later historical perspective: “Chambers is superb”. 7 Don DeMichael agreed, in his 1961 review of Steamin’: “Chambers is Chambers, strong in section, excellent in solo”. 8 While the two marathon sessions for Prestige represent a high point in the early months of the new quintet, it was still only part of the ongoing cycle of recordings that the band were undertaking at the time. A further recording took place in June 1956, when Davis, Chambers, Coltrane, Garland and Jones re-entered the studios, this time under their collective obligations to Columbia Records. On this occasion, the emphasis was away from the spontaneity of a club performance captured on the Prestige LPs and involved more robust and considered arrangements. During this particular session, the quintet recorded three tunes, namely “Dear Old Stockholm”, “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Tadd’s Delight” (also listed elsewhere as “Sid’s Delight”). Chambers’s personal star was rising fast and his involvement with Davis was clearly important in this developing celebrity. In 1956, while still only twenty-one years old, Chambers was awarded first place in the annual Downbeat Critics’ Poll “New Star” category, an award rarely offered to a bass player, let alone one as young as Chambers. The twenty-one-year-old Chambers was continually drawing praise from established jazz journalists and another Downbeat article of that year argued that

nearly everyone agrees that Paul is easily one of the most promising soloists on the instrument to have arrived in several years. He is equally skilled with the bow as he is in pizzicato playing, and his richly imaginative, strongly constructed bowed bass solos have contributed considerably to his rising reputation. 9

Chambers was given high praise by Nat Hentoff, in an article published in

the French jazz magazine Jazz Hot in that year. Hentoff would describe the

new face on the bass as “one of the most promising soloists

instrument in years”. 10 In the same article, Chambers credited the influence of Slam Stewart, having been advised by another bass player to study the Tatum sideman. Leroy Elliot “Slam” Stewart was born on 21 September 1914, on the dawn of the First World War. Stewart was by no means an uneducated musician, having studied at the Boston Conservatory. Following a period with guitarist Slim Gaillard in a notorious novelty duo “Slim and Slam”, Stewart went on to play with a number of high-profile swing musicians, namely vibra- phonist Red Norvo and clarinet legend Benny Goodman, before settling in for a lengthy association with pianist Art Tatum. Chambers’s debt to Stewart has often been acknowledged; both men were known to sing along with their

heard on this

arco solos but, due in no small part to his role in “Slim and Slam”, Stewart’s real contribution to the development of his chosen instrument has rarely been acknowledged in full. Chambers was beginning to enjoy his time in the sun and his session career was becoming as central to his musical endeavours as his main gig with Davis. Chambers was profoundly happy with this turn of events:

I wanted to avoid getting into a rut both in my playing and in

terms of repertoire. I get restless if a gig goes on too long. I like

to try different things, see different people, and think differently as the environment changes. Many bands seem to get into that

repertoire rut. I really believe in variety for one’s own amusement,

if for nothing else. 11

As far as this was concerned, Chambers would have little to worry about for

several years to come. It was apparent that Chambers’s bass playing displayed

a degree of musical maturity that belied his relative precociousness. As a

consequence, it is easy to forget that Chambers was still a relatively young man. Unsurprisingly, bearing in mind his actual age, his musical maturity did not appear to have translated into sensible, adult decision-making in other areas of his young life and the penchant for the kind of deviant behaviour for

which young men are known the world over was already beginning to show. Miles Davis later recalled:

When it came to running bar tabs, Paul Chambers was the worst. I’d give him his money and then I would bring up his bar tab, and he wouldn’t want to pay. One time I had to hit him in the mouth, he made me so mad. Paul was a real nice guy, but he was just immature. 12

A further anecdote, from Miles’s own biography, provides further evidence of

the difficulties the young Chambers had in exercising restraint when it came to

the temptations presented by life on the road. Miles recalls his consternation

at the number of “zombies”, a particularly potent cocktail that Chambers was

drinking during a trip to Rochester. Davis continues the story:

I ask him “Why do you drink shit like that? Why do you drink so

much Paul?” And he says “Aw man, I can drink all I want. I can drink 10 of these and it wouldn’t bother me”. “Drink ’em and I’ll pay for them” I told him. And he said “Okay”. So he drinks about five or six of them and says “See it didn’t bother me”. After this we went to a spaghetti place to eat, Paul and

me and Philly Joe. We all order spaghetti and Paul puts hot sauce all over his. I say “Man, why you do that?” He says “Because I love hot sauce, that’s why”. So I’m talking to Philly Joe and all of a sudden I hear this crashing sound and look round and Paul’s whole head had fallen face first into the spaghetti, hot sauce and everything. Those zombies had hit him in the brain and he couldn’t take it. The motherfucker was out cold. 13

These anecdotes are often pointed to knowingly, as evidence of the diffi- culties that Chambers would apparently face in later life. Yet, hindsight apart, it is reasonable to suggest that many a twenty-two-year-old, in the company of older, more sophisticated musicians may have merely succumbed to the routine temptations placed before him as many of his peers may have done (and, indeed, still do) away from the road. The absence of any pro-social factors such as a regular day job, regular hours, routine structured familial obligations, and so on, were all absent while Chambers and his colleagues were on the road and it is not unreasonable to suggest that many young men in their early twenties would have, on occasion, indulged themselves to excess. If you add the presence of more mature addicts like Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones into the equation, men who an impressionable Chambers would have inevitably looked up to as experienced professionals and mentors, it is likely that the young and inexperienced Chambers, lacking a positive male role model during much of his childhood, would have felt the tacit pressure to “keep up” with these older men who had long since developed a greater tolerance for the substances imbibed. Given the dynamics at play, he may have even felt a pressure to outdo them. To be blunt, it would have been more surprising if Chambers hadn’t succumbed and to judge these early anecdotes as indicative of profound or developing problems with substances is premature. In discussing his experiences with Chambers, bass player Chris White made reference to the fact that, in his estimation, Chambers’s irresponsible behaviour during this time was as much to do with immaturity as anything else. When he visited Chambers at his apartment, White recalls his wife Annie asking him to visit often to help keep her husband focused. White took this to be a reference to Chambers’s desire to “have fun” rather than to act maturely. 14 Further tales of the chaotic behaviour of the Davis sidemen were related by pianist Hampton Hawes, who was discussing Coltrane’s behaviour rather than Chambers’s but, as anyone who has had any substantive involvement with substance abusers will confirm, the actions of addicts are often collusive. “[Coltrane] was always drawing money from the club so he could get his door unlocked, go back to his room and put on his clothes and go to work”. 15 Davis biographer Jack Chambers continues:

With drugs using up so much of their incomes, setting aside money for food and rent was a constant, and nearly impossible, task for all the sidemen. In St. Louis, Coltrane and Paul Chambers shared a hotel room, as usual, but by the end of the engagement neither of them had any money to pay the bill, and they had to leave by the fire escape with their suitcases in their hand. 16

It is ironic that Chambers, unlike Coltrane, was never overtly sacked from a high-profile band as a result of his alcohol or drug misuse (although there were many minor spats relating to his alcohol use later in his career). It would be easy to conclude that this was because he kept the two sides of his life separate, always arriving on time and fit for work, delivering 110% when the music called for it. There is plenty of evidence, however, that this was not the case all of the time. The preparations for the recording sessions that became the Miles Ahead album, for instance, did not go as smoothly as the quality of the final product would imply. Trombonist Joe Bennett recalled that the inconsistencies emanating from the core members of the rhythm section served to undermine the progress of rehearsals.

It wasn’t because the guys couldn’t play their parts. It was because Miles’ guys (Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones) wouldn’t show up until two or three hours after the call. They had to call stand-by guys. Jimmy Cobb actually played more drums on Porgy and Bess than Philly because he was there. And Milt Hinton was called to cover for Paul Chambers. 17

And Milt Hinton was called to cover for Paul Chambers. 1 7 Paul Chambers and his

Paul Chambers and his room-mate John Coltrane (photograph courtesy of the Chambers family archive).

The chaos that surrounded the Davis line-up in and around 1957 was becoming legendary. It was said that Davis

was in charge of a group of junkies and addicts … he seemed to have got himself off his heroin addiction … but Coltrane and Jones were both still in thrall to junk, Chambers was a ferociously heavy drinker, and the collective behaviour of the band was almost comically sloppy and unprofessional … Coltrane’s habit was so bad that he would often nod out on the stand, his clothes filthy and disheveled. Chambers would frequently be incoherent with drink, and Jones, in some ways the ringleader, had a bizarre propensity for being almost comatose one moment and fit and ready to play the next. 18

Jones was undoubtedly a profoundly destructive influence on his younger colleagues. Nisenson would later describe Philly Joe Jones as “the Dean Martin of heroin, as if it were a matter of hilarity”. 19 Nisenson goes on to recall that one of the drummer’s best friends was comedian Lenny Bruce, similarly enthralled to the drug and equally casual about its inherent dangers (Bruce would, himself, succumb to drugs, overdosing accidentally on 3 August 1966). Whatever his alleged shortcomings and the negative influences surrounding him, Chambers would continue to be called for some very high-profile gigs for some years yet and, whatever his habits, would deliver great playing time after time after time. In a bizarre twist of irony, the bass player was called upon to replace another bass player who had become unreliable through alcohol. On 7 December 1956, Chambers replaced Oscar Pettiford for a session with pianist Thelonious Monk. The band included a former colleague from the 1955 Bennie Green sessions, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, St Louis trumpeter Clark Terry and, rounding out the rhythm section, drummer Max Roach. The ensemble recorded a single piece, Monk’s “Bemsha Swing”, a track that would appear on the pianist’s Brilliant Corners LP. As a fan of the early be-bop innovators like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the opportunity to record with Monk must have been particularly sweet for the bass player but the outcome was less than memorable. The tune opens with Monk’s unmistakable piano playing and the tune’s equally unmistakable melody, co-composed by Monk and drummer Denzil Best. Monk is quickly joined by Terry and Rollins with Chambers and Roach coming up behind. Roach’s take on the time is intriguing and it may be that the recording of his drums is poorly mixed but the drums are overpowering and, consequently, intrusive. Chambers’s bass doesn’t fare any better and the opportunity to hear him with these giants of be-bop is sullied as a consequence. There is an apparent clash between Chambers’s concept of time and that of Roach, resulting in Roach sounding laboured and Chambers, in turn, leaden.

This is another terrific example of a band that is arguably less than the sum of its parts. A Roach solo allows us to ascertain where the blame lies; the drums remain hot and are clearly recorded badly with little aural integrity. The toms and snare sound like they are in different rooms and being played by different people. The inclusion, by Roach, of tympani drums is considered by some commentators to be creative; others would consider it a poor choice badly executed. When Chambers re-enters with the firm walking bass line that precedes his short but promising solo, Roach pulls back on the kit and leaves the tympani drums alone. For a moment at least, we are left hoping that the mix is settling down and that we can begin to hear the potential in the coupling. Regrettably, the re-entry of Rollins and then Monk and, more signif- icantly, those tympani drums, again undermines any potential for beauty. For anyone seeking to hear every performance Chambers ever made, “Bemsha Swing” is the only track on the Brilliant Corners collection that features the twenty-three-year-old bass player and, indeed, it appears to be one of only two occasions when Chambers recorded with Monk, the earlier date with J.J. Johnson in April 1957 being the other. The growing reputation of the musicians involved, Chambers and Philly Joe Jones in particular, resulted in them being sought out by producers and performers for recordings and live appearances throughout the United States and beyond, even if the performers involved didn’t even know it. This notoriety was proving a lucrative sideline to the Davis gig. On Saturday 5 January 1957, the Miles Davis Quintet opened for a three-week engagement at Jazz City in Los Angeles. Chambers and the other members of the Davis rhythm section would make use of their downtime to supplement their income and add to the discographies of a range of local musicians. The recording of Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section took place on 19 January 1957, shortly after Pepper’s release from a spell at a notorious former naval prison, the Terminal Island Federal Penitentiary near San Pedro, California. This legendary session was arranged, without his knowledge, by Pepper’s then girlfriend Diane (later to become Pepper’s second wife, Diane Suriaga Pepper). Diane took advantage of the fact that the Miles Davis band were performing in the area and, with the help of Les Koenig at Contemporary Records, had arranged the recording session without consulting Pepper. It was felt that, by not telling Pepper in advance of the date, there was a greater chance that his presence at the session could be guaranteed. Pepper later acknowledged that “they knew that no matter how strung out I was I would take care of business if people were depending on me”. 20 Pepper, then aged thirty-two, was clearly nervous before recording with not only some of the country’s top professionals but with what many then and since believe to be one of the greatest rhythm sections in the history of jazz: Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. In Pepper’s biography, the saxophonist legitimizes his anxiety by recalling that he hadn’t picked up his horn for six months. He seeks to convince his

readers that, when he recovered his saxophone from the back of a closet to prepare it for the day’s session, his horn was in such state of disrepair that pieces of his saxophone came off in his hands. After executing some temporary repairs (and hurling a string of heartfelt vitriolic profanities at Diane for putting him in this invidious position), Pepper went to the recording session (after “fixing” – using heroin – what he described as “a large amount”). Pepper’s version of the story of this surprise session needs to be treated with a degree of scepticism, however, as his own discography, published in that same biography, reveals sessions with tenor saxophonists Ted Brown and Wardell Gray (21 December 1956), Red Norvo (3 January 1956) and with his own quartet (28 December 1956) which had taken place within the previous month. It is ironic, bearing in mind the quality of the results achieved, that the musical arrangements for the date were informal to the point of ambivalence. Despite the high-profile nature of his band-mates on that day, and despite making considerable efforts to arrange the experience, no one had seen fit to decide on what music the musicians should perform until the tape was ready to roll. The players asked what they were to play but Pepper had no idea. Red Garland suggested the Cole Porter standard “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to”, a tune Chambers would later record on one of his own sessions as a leader. Chambers himself recommended a second tune, the standard “Imagination”. As the session progressed, other tunes were put forward: “Red Pepper Blues”, “Jazz Me Blues”, “Waltz Me Blues”, Pepper’s own “Straight Life”, “Tin Tin Deo” and Gillespie’s “Birk’s Works”. To Pepper’s delight, the music the quartet performed that day turned out beautifully, as can be heard on any one of the many re-issues available, be that on vinyl, compact disc or DVD-audio disc. The recording was reviewed in Downbeat some twelve months or so later and, having given it five stars, the reviewer described the recording as “one of the best jazz albums of last year and probably Pepper’s most mature recording to date”. 21 Despite his personal problems, and the dubious claims around not having touched his horn for six months, it is very much to Pepper’s credit that the music he recorded in 1957, while in no way flawless, was energetic and, bearing in mind the early tone of the session, strangely focused (“It sounded like we had been playing together for months” 22 ). As a result, this recording remains one of the best-known and valued of Pepper’s back catalogue as well as Chambers’s. Pepper was to repeat the exercise of recording with a Davis rhythm section some three years later, in February 1960, although, on this second occasion, only Chambers remained from the original trio. Davis had long since replaced Garland with Wynton Kelly and Philly Joe Jones with Jimmy Cobb. Pepper was also much better prepared for this session and played well. He even wrote some arrangements for the album, including a piece he dedicated to

Diane, or to the person he appears to have wished her to be (“the tune was way too beautiful for her …” 23 ). This later recording included the Chambers composition “Whims of Chambers”; Pepper originals: “Bijou the Poodle”, “Why Are We Afraid?” and “Gettin’ Together”; the Monk tune “Rhythm- a-ning”, and the standards “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” and “The Way You Look Tonight”. The album was generally well received but specific praise was directed at the rhythm section and to Chambers particularly. Critic Martin Williams wrote: “Their swing always has the secret kind of forward movement that is so important to jazz. (A handy explanation of ‘swing’ might be ‘any two successive notes played by Paul Chambers’)”. 24 The praise for Chambers’s contribution to this later Pepper recording continued when, in 1978, Max Harrison wrote: “It is only a seeming paradox that although Pepper is a melodist his methods require a rhythm section that is never merely passively time-keeping but always actively participating. Cobb and particu- larly Chambers meet his requirements with considerable imagination …” 25 While the highlights of Chamber’s career were yet to come, the evident success of this album for Pepper and the increasingly high-profile work with Miles Davis meant that there was no shortage of work for the bass player. Some of the extra-curricular work undertaken by Chambers and his colleagues around this time was, however, well away from the high-profile New York scene and even further away from the spotlights. A couple of days after the Pepper date, Chambers and Jones, still in town for the Jazz City gig, were again called upon to provide their services to some opportunistic locals. On 21 January, tenor saxophonists Jack Montrose and

locals. On 21 January, tenor saxophonists Jack Montrose and Wynton Kelly, Philly Joe Jones, Art Pepper

Wynton Kelly, Philly Joe Jones, Art Pepper and Paul Chambers (photograph by Ray Avery. © Ray Avery/CTSIMAGES.COM).

Bill Perkins, along with pianist Paul Moer, would join the two Davis sidemen in a studio date led by French horn player John Graas. Graas had an interesting pedigree. Having spent a year or so with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Graas left to join the Claude Thornhill band. Further periods with orchestras and jazz bands would include the Cleveland Orchestra (1945–46) and Stan Kenton’s “Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra (1950–51)”. The band, or parts thereof, recorded three tunes on the 21st, entitled, respec- tively, “Cluster”, “Canon Friar” and “Mood”. Chambers and Jones played on all three pieces. Over the following two days, Chambers would contribute to a further series of sessions featuring the same musicians who had recorded under Graas, but, this time, without Graas himself. Graas’s absence was not absolute on the latter dates, however, as several of the tunes recorded were his own composition. On 22 January, a quintet featuring Jack Montrose, Bill Perkins, Paul Moer, Chambers and Jones were scheduled to record at the Hollywood-based “Audio Arts Studio”. In an effort to assist in this process, drummer Mel Lewis had arranged to make his drum kit available for Jones and arrived at the studio to drop the drums off. Philly Joe Jones, however, failed to show for the first session and, for this date at least, Lewis took over the drum chair. At least two tunes were recorded that day (the release of the material on the Xanadu label in 1975, with the tracks incorrectly titled and the whole product repackaged, for strictly commercial reasons, under the leadership of Chambers, has resulted in more than a little confusion around the details of these recordings. The LP’s title was East/West Controversy – the controversy here, however, relates to the later misrepresentation of the sessions as a Chambers-led affair and the clumsy labelling of the material presented). The piece “Westlake Bounce” (presented as “Montrose” on the earlier releases of the material) is aptly titled and bounces along as a kind of West Coast bop; well written and arranged, neatly executed and formed from a sophisticated melodic line. Yet the horns are lacking the energy and verve that would be seen to define the so-called “East Coast” sound, generally considered to be a tougher and more aggressive dialect altogether. Chambers takes an arco solo next and is very much on form; his solo is wonderfully melodic and his intonation impeccable. While his line almost imperceptibly falters momentarily at one point, the solo lines that the bass player weaves are easily a match for the other soloists on the date and there is no suggestion that the bass is a second-rate instrument when it comes to soloing. Another Graas composition, “Mulliganesque”, is clearly written with the baritone saxophonist in mind. Ironically, Bill Perkins, a perfectly competent baritone saxophonist who had worked with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, amongst others, does not pick up the big horn, preferring to remain on tenor saxophone. Chambers’s arco solo takes a little while to get off the ground and lacks direction. While the solo is executed without incident, his ideas fail to coalesce into an integrated whole.

On both of these tracks, Mel Lewis plays journeyman drums and, while he works closely with Chambers in ensuring that they keep the momentum of the tunes on course, there are no fireworks. The prodigal Jones returned, without explanation, for the second date and his contribution is highly significant in lighting a fire under the more innately conservative Montrose, Perkins and Moer. Jones’s drums open the breakneck “Motif”, another Graas composition. The piece is superficially of a be-bop tone although the melody lacks the harmonic edginess of the genre. The piece is a standard thirty-two-bar song form structured on the conventional AABA format. Perkins’s opening solo shows an enviable facility on the baritone saxophone although the saxophonist does sometimes sound as if he is right on the edge of his ability, forced out onto a limb by the energy created by Chambers and Jones. Chambers’s solo, again arco, is astonishing. Nevertheless, the velocity is not gratuitous and Chambers’s use of space within this rollercoaster ride is considered. The piece is a tour de force of be-bop arco bass and, to this day, has few peers. Even the intonation, often seen as a flaw in Chambers’s playing, is right on the money. Montrose and Perkins sat out the next tune, listed on the Xanadu release as “Cute” but actually a Paul Moer composition called “Neat Foot”. Paul Moer, whose given name was Paul Moerschbacher, was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in 1916. Moer was a well-trained musician having studied at the University of Miami, and had played with a range of top-notch players, including saxophonists Benny Carter, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Ben Webster. His own composition opens with Chambers playing a neat little four-bar line before the pianist takes the thirty-six-bar song on a merry dance (the solos are only thirty-two bars long, the composer has added a couple of two-bar tags to the head). The rhythm section breaks into a strong walk during the eight-bar bridge shortly before Chambers’s own solo and returns to a walk as the pianist exchanges four-bar phrases with Jones on brushes. “Neat Foot” is an attractive tune, a little cerebral but, nevertheless, approached by all concerned with the best of intentions. “Mood” (listed by Xanadu as “Early Morning”) has a strange kind of Hollywoodesque Latin/African feel, sounding initially like the soundtrack to an Amazon River sequence, at least during the heads. Chambers plays an ostinato line in D minor, the results sounding like something from Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club-era “jungle” music. The mood is sadly broken during the solos, as the rhythm section settles into a routine walk. The Latin feel is, however, utilized as a bridge between solos and, before his own solo, Chambers is heard replacing the ostinato with a more interesting contra- puntal line. His own solo carries several familiar phrases but is too brief to allow him to explore this particular groove at any length. There was little time for recording over the next couple of months as the touring schedule was gruelling. Still on the West Coast, Chambers and the Davis Quintet opened a two-week stay at The Blackhawk in San Francisco,

this time opposite Dave Brubeck, before moving to the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh on 25 February for a gig with the Ted Heath Band. Two weeks followed at Preview’s Modern Jazz Room in Chicago. A couple of residencies in Chicago followed before Chambers took a couple of session bookings at Rudy Van Gelder’s place back in New Jersey. The 22 March proved to be a particularly busy day for Chambers who joined the Red Garland Trio for another in a series of Prestige dates, this one producing eight tunes that have appeared on various packages over the years including 45 rpm singles. One track, a version of “Strike Up the Band”, was rejected at the time but the rest is journeyman piano trio material consistent with Garland’s general output during this era. With drummer Art Taylor joining Garland and Chambers, the material is standard Garland fare: a series of reasonably well-known standards including “The Very Thought of You”, “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, “Almost Like Being in Love” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”. One of the tracks recorded that day was a less-known but nevertheless attractive Jerome Kern ballad called “Why Was I Born?” – a simple and pretty tune, sensitively executed by Garland, with an unusually animated Chambers slightly over-playing his part. “Why Was I Born?” was part of the package that was released as Red Garland’s Prestige LP The P.C. Blues. On that same date, immediately following the Garland session (the Prestige recording reference numbers confirm the chronology), Chambers and Taylor remained behind for an unusual session featuring a four-horn front line. Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors featured the trumpets of Idrees Sulieman and Webster Young alongside the tenor saxophones of John Coltrane and Bobby Jasper. The rhythm section was finished off by Mal Waldron on piano and Kenny Burrell on guitar. Sulieman was a Florida-born, Boston Conservatory-trained musician who had previously worked with Monk, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie. Raised in Washington DC, Young’s pedigree was more questionable, his main experience having been in an army band with Hampton Hawes and periods with b-list bands like those of Rick Henderson, Lloyd Price and Buck Hill. Belgian Bobby Jasper had paid his dues in France before touring with J.J. Johnson. A minor figure in jazz history, Jasper would, at least, get to play briefly with Miles Davis before his untimely death in 1963, aged thirty-seven, following heart surgery. The overall feel of the Interplay session is part-jam session, part big-band warm up. The soloing is occasionally creditable but the ensemble passages never really gel, sounding as if they were written simply to justify the number of players in the studio. Burrell tries his best to recreate the feel that Freddie Green used to get with the Count Basie band but the microphone placement denies him his goal. There are a couple of Chambers solos on the session and his walking lines are never short of impeccable but, despite the best efforts of Chambers, Waldron, Burrell and Taylor, there never really seems to be much point to what is going on. The four tracks recorded

by Rudy Van Gelder were all Mal Waldron compositions and included “Interplay”, “Anatomy”, a variation on Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are”, “Light Blue”, a blues, and “Soul Eyes”. The session concluded with a tune called “C.T.A.” which was held back for release as part of an Art Taylor album but which rejoined the set for later CD releases of Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors. Before rejoining the Davis Quintet on a road trip to Baltimore for a one-week engagement at the Comedy Club, Chambers joined Lee Morgan for another Blue Note session on 24 March. The sextet assembled for this date included Chambers, Morgan, Benny Golson on tenor sax, Gigi Gryce on alto and flute, Wynton Kelly on piano and Charlie Persip on drums. Five tracks were assembled for the Blue Note LP Lee Morgan Volume 3. Morgan was still on tour with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band when this material was recorded, as were Kelly and Persip. The tunes on Lee Morgan Volume 3 were all written and arranged by Golson who, despite his central contribution to the session, had to be persuaded to play. Bigger ensembles often suited Chambers, partic- ularly when the music prepared was properly arranged. Many of the sessions undertaken for labels like Prestige were not particularly lucrative and the arrangements were often short, head-only efforts without a great deal of depth. The tunes were often re-framings of standards, like Mal Waldron’s “Anatomy” mentioned above, or simple variations on the blues where the rhythm section just marked time for the soloist. Golson’s arrangements were generally among the more sophisticated (although even he could churn them out when required to do so by a demanding producer with an open cheque book). The album opens with the Arabian-influenced “Hasaan’s Dream”. Golson sought to create the unusual feel of the piece by eliminating the piano from the eight-bar introduction, utilizing a tambourine to create an interesting texture behind Gryce’s flute. Persip’s use of the bell of his cymbal to accent the stabs from Morgan and Golson adds to the atmosphere but Chambers’s arrival, alongside Persip’s brushes, takes the piece into more conventional territory, a variation on a twelve-bar minor blues. Nevertheless, the brooding quality of the introduction continues to inform a tension that the ensemble uses to great effect. Chambers takes two choruses after Kelly, utilizing his lazy triplet quarter notes and behind-the-beat feel to maintain the tension required as the arrangement takes the ensemble back into the composition’s head. Golson’s coda shows the benefits of using proper arrangements and avoiding jam session conventions in closing tunes. “Domingo” opens with Chambers’s bow and a downward glissando before the band launches into a conventional hard-bop line over a descending chord sequence. Golson’s solos are always lyrical but this one is beautifully crafted, the saxophonist managing to sound relaxed despite the quick tempo. Morgan’s triple-tonguing marks his entrance and his solo is tart and tightly controlled, even over its considerable length. Gryce’s reputation never grew

like those of his band-mates but his solo here has considerable merit. Kelly swings hard and Chambers digs in deep to help. Persip’s drums are crisp and propulsive, if unremarkable. Lee Morgan leads on “I Remember Clifford”, Golson’s tribute to his close friend Clifford Brown. Brown had died alongside pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife, Nancy, in a car crash the previous June. The tenderness and melancholy Golson wrote into the tune is served beautifully by Chambers’s warm, sensitive and integrated bass playing. “Mesabi Chant” features another Chambers arco solo but Persip’s hi-hats interfere with the listening experience and the moment passes. Golson apparently had Persip in mind when writing “Tip Toeing”, a medium swing tune with some interesting harmonic twists. Chambers’s two-chorus solo is pizzicato this time and all the better for it. His considered phrasing contains several trademark Chambers motifs, the behind-the-beat phrasing, the climbing triplets, the unmistakable tone. A second take released in 2007 reveals little that is new in terms of the ensemble but Chambers’s solo is a little hotter. The swing groove is also a little harder during Morgan’s solo but either take is perfectly credible and the choice cannot have been an easy one (although, to be fair, Persip’s solo is a little incongruent on this take and races alarmingly before the ensemble brings him back into line). Another fact that increases the significance of this session is that it appears to be the first date on which Chambers would appear with Wynton Kelly on piano. This recording, therefore, marks the beginning of a professional relationship that would last for the rest of Chambers’s life (and, indeed, most of Kelly’s). Another Davis residency at the Café Bohemia followed, this one lasting three weeks, but, on 6 April 1957, while in the middle of that residency, Chambers returned to Rudy Van Gelder’s parents’ living room in Hackensack, New Jersey, to record four more tracks for Blue Note records. The leader on this date was the tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin and the material captured that day was subsequently released under the title A Blowin’ Session. The date remains one of the most important recordings in Griffin’s catalogue. More importantly, however, in the context of Chambers’s story, the listener now had a chance to compare the way in which a rhythm section of this calibre manages its performance against three distinctly different tenor saxophonists. Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” opens with the unmistakable roll of Blakey’s snare which sets the scene for a relatively frantic approach to the classic crooner’s melody. Griffin opens the solos with an almost endless string of sixteenth notes and leaves little doubt that, despite the placatory rhetoric in Ira Gitler’s sleeve notes, the gloves are off. Griffin’s “Ball Bearing” is a pleasing if somewhat overbearing arrangement for three tenors and, while in no way a slow tune, is taken at considerably more laid-back tempo than “The Way You Look Tonight”. Coltrane takes the first solo and immediately sounds more comfortable.

Kelly opens proceedings before Griffin takes the head on Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are”. The head is played with an almost comedic vibrato by Griffin and, despite the pedestrian start, he quickly picks things up. Coltrane is equally garrulous but somehow just about manages to avoid over-playing. Chambers solos confidently but the quality of this recording, compared to several others that took place around this time, denies the listener the full benefit of his hugely profound tone. Griffin’s own composition “Smoke Stack” is a blues and opens with two choruses of Kelly soloing with his rhythm section colleagues. Chambers gets a few choruses but, again, the quality of the recording does him no great service. In short, A Blowin’ Session is of historical interest for the tenor saxophone community and for fans of the three horn players but, regrettably, the rhythm section sounds competent but uninspired. The workman-like feel of the rhythm is adequate but unendearing and, ultimately, when measured alongside some of the other work of these three men, unsatisfying. It would probably have been nicer to hear the session played with Jimmy Cobb in place of Blakey as, with hindsight, this may have allowed for a more sympathetic interpretation of the changing dynamic of the four horns. While still meeting his obligations to the Café Bohemia and following sessions with J.J. Johnson, Gene Ammons and Sonny Rollins, on 27 April 1957, Chambers, Kelly and Griffin entered a New York studio for a further recording date, this time led by another St Louis trumpeter and the mentor to the bass player’s main employer. Clark Terry was already an established and respected name on the professional music scene having worked extensively with the big bands of Charlie Barnet (1947), Count Basie (1948–51) and, most famously, Duke Ellington (1951–59). Terry was, in fact, still in the employ of the Duke when he accepted the invitation to record for the Riverside label. For the date in question, Terry assembled a quintet that featured the pianist and bass player from the Blowin’ Session but, in place of Blakey, Terry had engaged the services of Philly Joe Jones. The material recorded that day is a mix of standards, be-bop staples and original compositions. “Donna Lee”, a composition often credited to Charlie Parker but actually penned by Miles Davis, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” and Arlen’s “That Old Black Magic” are the only tunes recorded that were not written and arranged by Terry but, despite the obvious pedigree of these tunes, the Terry originals are the strongest pieces on the recording. The first of the Terry compositions, “Boardwalk”, opens with a slinky walking bass and a melody that aches enough to feel good. The walk changes into a gospel shuffle with a horn figure at the start of the solos. Chambers’s walking groove starts off a little tentatively but he quickly finds the space between Philly Joe’s ride cymbal and hi-hat and locks in for the duration. The solos are arranged as a classic “question and answer” feature for the two horns and Terry and Griffin show themselves to be generous and sensitive performers. Jones sounds like he, once more, wants to take the groove into

double time but Chambers denies him. Kelly plays a blues solo that affirms the reputation that would follow him throughout his career and into jazz history. It is interesting to compare the feel of this trio here with the classic Kelly/Chambers/Cobb ensemble that was yet a couple of years away from being born. “Boomerang” is taken at a choppy 240 bpm and presents itself as a classy be-bop tune with all of the hallmarks of the genre including pedal tones and strong accents throughout the head. Terry shows himself to be a master bopper and not a relic of the old swing-era trumpet sections where he had spent much of his career to that point. Griffin is equally at home here and takes a strong, if not groundbreaking, solo. Chambers’s own solo is played arco and he is sensitively backed up by Kelly and Jones. The performance of “Boomerang” is tight and, in light of the demands of the arrangement, is a credit to all concerned. The tune swings hard. “Digits” opens with Kelly playing an unusually Monkish introduction. Despite its angular start, the tune is an unpretentious if joyous romp, the kind of jazz that would one day underpin a thousand TV situation comedies or game shows the world over. Chambers walks confidently but the groove is only adequate when placed alongside some of the bass player’s stronger performances. Griffin and Terry are on form and clearly listen as much as, if not more than, they play. Kelly’s solo is likeable but the piano sounds a little barrelhouse and all mid-range frequencies. The pianist’s fills during the final head are quaint. The subsequent LP’s title tune “Serenade to a Bus Seat” is another stormer, coming in at around 250 bpm. Chambers sounds as if he is, on this date at least, more comfortable at these kinds of tempos than on the slower pieces and the momentum of this performance is a force to be reckoned with. Griffin and Terry solo strongly and, despite being eighteen years older than the youngest of them, a generation in anyone’s money, Terry has much to show the younger players like Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham and Donald Byrd about pacing. Kelly’s solo is particularly robust and worthy of a close listen. Chambers and Jones serve to drive the whole thing along with a swagger. The performance of Carmichael’s “Stardust” is tender and heartwarming. Terry’s tone is old-school but, like all good horn sounds, similarly timeless. Chambers plays it straight but an interesting change in feel at around the three-minute mark gently lifts the piece for Griffin’s solo. Another Terry composition, “Cruising”, with a refreshingly welcome “g” in place of the soon to be all-too-familiar Blue Note/Prestige/Riverside apostrophe, is taken with a two-feel and is chirpy enough but the walking lines underneath Griffin’s solo establish a textbook swing groove, giving the saxophonist the best possible chance to deliver. Jones again tries to double the time throughout Griffin’s solo but, again, Chambers prefers to stay where he is. Terry and Kelly both solo (with Jones doubling the groove again behind Kelly) before a

call-and-response section with Chambers answering the horns with sharply executed lines. An interesting arrangement of “That Old Black Magic” closed the Bus Seat session. The tune is taken over a Latin groove and Chambers tries his best to make it happen but lacks the idiomatic knowledge required to play in what remains, for him, an alien genre. The interest from this piece lies in Kelly’s piano. The Jamaican-born pianist shows his roots in the lines he plays behind the head. The tune is a disappointing two minutes long and it would have been nice to hear Kelly continue in this vein. Chambers, however, remains non-committal. Overall, Serenade to a Bus Seat stands as a recording you want to like and, whatever its shortcomings, there is much on show to justify your respect. The album is not, however, groundbreaking and all parties, Terry included, can be heard to better effect elsewhere.

5 Bass on Top

In May 1957, Chambers was afforded the opportunity to become involved, as Miles Davis’s now long-standing bass player of choice, in what was to become a series of classic recordings in which Davis collaborated with the arranger Gil Evans. The relationship between Davis and Evans had developed during the late 1940s and reached a higher level of intimacy around 1949 and 1950 when the two men were involved in the series of recordings that subsequently became known as the Birth of the Cool sessions. The music recorded in January and April 1949 and in March 1950 arose from a series of experiments, coming out of the apartment Evans rented behind a Chinese laundry on 55th Street, New York, in which Evans and the arrangers Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, John Carisi and George Russell sought to apply the musical palette of Claude Thornhill to the innovations of be-bop. Evans had himself written for Thornhill and has gone on record acknowledging the influence Thornhill had on his own arranging. And yet, despite Thornhill’s role in creating these legendary textures, former Thornhill bass player Bill Crow was unequivocal: “We were especially fond of the things Gil Evans had written for him”. 1 Despite any previously reported shortcomings or occasional unprofes- sional behaviour, Chambers’s place in the production of the historical Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaborations was assured by his innate musicality. As Stephanie Stein Crease indicates in her Evans biography:

Chambers … fulfilled an important role in Gil’s writing. The bass provided a harmonic colour base as well as a rhythmic one, a foundation for the shifting poly-rhythms among the brass and woodwinds. Evans’ opinion of [Chambers] was sterling:

“There was nobody ever before or after Paul Chambers; he was such a glorious player. When he played up-tempo, it was never the least bit choppy – he could hang onto the preceding note as

long as possible before the next note so it was all connected, so smooth. And as far as the bow was concerned he was a natural. Most other jazz players, when they started to use the bow, their pitch would get touchy. Not Paul – he’d just pick up that bow like a swashbuckler”. 2

Evans and Paul were also neighbours for a time, when Gil moved into an apartment on the Upper West Side at 86th Street, right near Central Park. In a series of sessions dated 6, 10, 23 and 27 May 1957, Chambers entered the Columbia Studios on 30th Street, New York City, for a set of recordings that amounted to the second substantive collaboration between Miles Davis and Gil Evans, the last having been the previously mentioned Birth of the Cool sessions. Producer George Avakian would later reveal that the material that came to form the Miles Ahead LP was recorded on a new addition to the Columbia recording facility, a two-track machine, apparently acquired only a matter of days before the first of these recordings took place, thus allowing for one of the very earliest “stereo” recordings. Despite this innovation, the original recording was issued as mono and it wasn’t until 1997 (a “pseudo-stereo” version was issued by Columbia in 1987 but pulled before the ’97 re-issue) that the full stereo recording saw the light of day. For Miles Ahead, Evans’s choice of instrumentation was as follows: five trumpets, alto saxophone, clarinet, three trombones, bass trombone, two French horns, tuba, bass clarinet, flute, Chambers’s double bass and drums. The brass-heavy (and almost entirely reed-free) instrumentation is effectively a variation on that deemed most appropriate for the Birth of the Cool sessions which, at the time, represented a collectively agreed minimal instrumental requirement to reproduce the textures created by Evans’s stylistic mentor, Claude Thornhill. The band was remarkable consistent, despite the number of separate dates during May 1957. The band that recorded on 6 and 10 of May was identical while the band called for 23 May had one change (Jimmy Buffington for Tony Miranda on French horn) and, on 27 May, Eddie Caine replaced Sid Cooper on flute and clarinet. The only other change was the presence of Wynton Kelly on 27 May alone. The colours that the nineteen voices present made available to Evans’s palette meant that the piano was only required for minimal detail on one tune (“Springsville”). On 6 May, the eighteen musicians that formed the orchestra recorded Gil Evans’s arrangements of Delibes’s “The Maids of Cadiz” and Dave Brubeck’s dedication to Ellington, “The Duke”. “The Maids of Cadiz” opens with a three-note phrase that hints at Evans’s future arrangement of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” (although trombonist Bob Brookmeyer described it as “a sinister, ‘haunted house’ passage”). 3 Chambers’s bass responds to this opening phrase with a G-minor run that is, in turn, answered by Davis and the ensemble. The piece proceeds with a melancholic air and the harmonic stillness that Evans has since become

famous for. There is so much space in the piece and yet there is nothing missing. It is interesting to note the central position that Chambers’s bass takes in the sonic landscape. The piece is beautifully performed and equally tastefully programmed. The band segues into “The Duke”, although, on the 1997 re-mix the link is clearly a spliced edit and not an authentic segue. The piece opens with a heavy brass feature before settling into a delightful rendering of Brubeck’s melody, featuring Davis’s flugelhorn, Lee Konitz’s alto saxophone, along with a clarinet, trombone, tuba, bass and drums. Even with all seven instrumentalists stating their case, the arrangement remains sparse as the lines whisper to each other. Davis opens his solo with only Chambers and drummer Art Taylor for company, another example of the “less is more” ethos on which both Davis and Evans would build their reputations. On the second date, 10 May, the band recorded the Kurt Weill composition “My Ship” and Davis and Evans’s own “Miles Ahead” track. “My Ship” is all but becalmed before we hear an elegant arrangement of the melody with Chambers creating tension by playing the off-beat. The tune is underpinned by a baritone saxophone rather than the bass on this rendition although one wonders whether a bowed bass may have provided something special. The brass features behind the flute lead for the first time through the head before Davis’s sublime entrance. “Miles Ahead” is, again, performed with typical lightness. The Evans Orchestra was not a big band in the traditional sense and rarely lifted above pianissimo; the trumpet section were partic- ularly restrained (listen to the three-note phrase behind Davis during the closing moments of the piece). “My Ship” is given what Stein Crease called a “palpable yearning quality”. 4 It is important to acknowledge the specific problems that performing at such slow tempos presents the rhythm section. There is a tendency among musicians and critics alike to measure a musician’s worth by his velocity; who is the fastest gun in the West. Without dismissing the difficulties created by rapid-fire soloing, it is often far harder to hide musical inadequacies at slower tempos. The “half-time” sections of several of the tunes on Miles Ahead, “My Ship” included, are managed beautifully by Chambers, whose tone and time once again reveal, firstly, why he and no other had earned the best jazz gig in the world and, secondly, why he held the chair for so long. The slow pace of “My Ship” also allows the listener to focus on and enjoy the internal movement within Evans’s arrangement and to breathe in the most famous tone in the history of jazz – that of Miles Dewey Davis III. While Chambers was unknowingly involved in some very important work with Davis and Evans at this time, his growing contribution to the discog- raphies of others continued unabated. Chambers and the other sidemen at the Columbia session were all working musicians who couldn’t afford to sit around basking in the glory of the developing Davis/Evans masterpiece. They had to earn a crust.

Curtis Fuller had had previous opportunities to record as a leader and had already recorded one set with Doug Watkins on bass but, on 14 May 1957, it was Chambers who went to Hackensack under the leadership of the trombonist and under the supervision of vibraphonist, composer and arranger Teddy Charles. The line-up for this session included Red Garland, drummer Louis Hayes, a new face in the Chambers discography, and saxophonist Sylvester “Sonny Red” Kyner, himself a Detroit import. The performances range in quality from Kyner’s bright be-bop blues “Seeing Red” to the more lugubrious “Stormy Weather”. Fuller’s own “Cashmere” is

a successful composition and provides an opportunity for some great solos

from all concerned. Fuller’s is slightly menacing, Red’s more tentative but the brooding swing groove is what provides the interest. Chambers’s moody solo

is interrupted by a slightly incongruent fill from Hayes but the piece remains

one of the strongest from the session. Chambers and Fuller would play a lot together over the years and the two men had nine sessions together during 1957 alone. Later career highlights for the trombonist include stints with Art Blakely’s Jazz Messengers, the Benny Golson/Art Farmer project The Jazztet, Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band and that of Count Basie. The May session was not, by any means, the last time that Chambers and Fuller would meet at Hackensack and there were great career highlights to come for both players. Still in the middle of the Miles Ahead sessions, Chambers continued to make progress in his own career as a leader, recording a number of tracks for his third LP and second for Blue Note Records, the eponymously titled Paul Chambers Quintet. The recording for this LP took place on 19 May 1957, at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio as usual, and the band was made up almost entirely of Detroit players, musicians whom Chambers had known since his early days at Cass Tech. The sole exception was tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, who was born in Chicago, growing up alongside the likes of Johnny Griffin, Sun Ra saxophonist John Gilmore and, another legendary bass player, Richard Davis, himself a veteran of performances with leaders as varied as multi- instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, pianist Andrew Hill and singer Sarah Vaughan. The Paul Chambers Quintet LP also featured old friends Donald Byrd on trumpet, pianist Tommy Flanagan and, from those jam sessions in Pontiac, drummer Elvin Jones. The opening cut is a Benny Golson number entitled “Minor Run-Down”, based, as it is, around the key of C-minor chord (Cm7, Am7flat5, Dmin7flat5, G7flat9). The middle eight is unusual in that it consists of a C-pedal for four bars (Cm7, DIMaj/C, Cm7, DIMaj/C, Cm7, DIMaj/C, G7) followed by a descending cycle of fourths (Cm7, F9, BIm7, EI9, AI7, G7) resolving to G7 (the dominant chord in the original key of C-minor). Following a simple four-bar intro, the thirty-two-bar tune’s simple melody is performed by Chambers who also takes the first solo. The piece is taken at a medium tempo, although Chambers never strays beyond straight eighth notes throughout

the two choruses. Jordan follows next and shows himself to be a competent soloist, with a sound that nods towards Sonny Rollins yet still acknowledges a debt to another significant contributor to earlier Chambers recordings, John Coltrane. Byrd comes next, proving that his right to a place on the roster of players for this session was not simply born of nepotism or nostalgia. Tommy Flanagan takes the next solo and reveals himself to be a delicate player, whose presence serves to temper the more aggressive tendencies of the more forthright horn section. Chambers closes the solos by exchanging fours with Jones whose contribution gives little or no indication of the percussive excesses to which he would later go under the leadership of Coltrane. The released version of “Minor Run-Down” was the eighth take but the horns are still less than perfect, despite the relative simplicity of the arrangement. Chambers’s own “The Hand of Love” opens with a somewhat “commercial” Latin groove, the kind made famous by the more successful Latin dance bands that had preceded the integration of Latin and jazz influences that was already being explored by composers like George Russell and Dizzy Gillespie. Despite his having composed this tune, there is again little real evidence to suggest that Chambers ever developed anything more than a superficial understanding of the Latin genre and the mysteries of the clavé. The groove established by Chambers, Flanagan and Jones is essentially clichéd. The harmonies in the melody line are themselves relatively unsophisticated and could not be considered profound. Byrd takes the melody part with Jordan underlining the harmony with sustained notes. “The Hand of Love” sounds more like a novelty dance number from a 1940s dance orchestra than a precursor of the Latin- tinged work of Horace Silver or the bossa nova craze of the 1960s. Despite the suspect context, Chambers solos confidently and is clearly comfortable with the backdrop he has provided for himself. Flanagan is equally at home in what is another thirty-two-bar AABA form, his solo skipping along nicely with some more enthusiastic runs as his solo settles down. Jordan is happy enough with the impetus of the rhythm section as Elvin Jones plays a little further ahead of the beat than had his namesake Philly Joe. Elvin’s own solo is particularly creative and some of the ideas presented here would be developed later during his marathon sessions with Coltrane. The piece ends with a bass ostinato albeit with no surprises. The melody of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” is performed by Chambers himself, accompanied only by Flanagan and Jones. The overall effect is interesting, if a little sombre. The tune is taken at a relaxed tempo and Chambers is thus able to produce a reasonably inventive solo, albeit lacking the dynamism that a saxophone or trumpet may have brought to the proceedings. To be fair, another version of the Hammerstein/Romberg number performed by a horn-led quartet or quintet would have lacked the novelty value of the Chambers’s arrangement and the decision to perform the piece in this way is justified accordingly. Flanagan takes a half-chorus only and Chambers takes the second half of the form before taking the head out.

The sound of the recorded bass is particularly clear here, given the delicacy of Flanagan and Jones. As the track fades, someone can be heard saying what sounds like “That was lovely”, a fair assessment given the limited potential of

a tune of this kind arranged in this way. “Four Strings” was the second of the two tunes penned by Benny Golson for this date, this particular piece having been written especially for Chambers. The melody is a somewhat unconventional blues performed by Chambers’s bowed bass in unison with the horns of Jordan and Byrd. Chambers takes the first solo and his bass sound is captured particularly well by Van Gelder. The solos are over a standard twelve-bar blues form, the players consequently able to relax and enjoy the fun. Jordan’s solo is more Rollins than Coltrane but worthy nevertheless. Byrd is focused, his tone clear and concise. Flanagan brings things down again; perhaps he should have been given the solo after Chambers, thus allowing the performance to grow. Jones solos with brushes and is clearly considerably more sophisticated than Philly Joe Jones. The piece ends with a Chambers cadenza. There follows a rendering of the Haggart and Burke standard “What’s New?” which, following an eight-bar intro from Flanagan, is taken by Byrd in the main, with minimal support from Jordan. The solos are opened by Jordan, whose tone is a little harsher here than it has been until now. Byrd enters aggressively although his solo falters momentarily before he compensates with

a rapid-fire run that says “See, I can do it”! Flanagan is again slightly apologetic in his performance. Chambers, therefore, sounds sharper than he may have otherwise, his tone fuller and rounder. Byrd reintroduces the melody although this time the middle eight is an improvised line taken by Jordan. “Beauteous” is another Chambers composition, again based on a standard thirty-two-bar AABA sequence. During the head, the middle eight is another Latin groove, this time a light rumba, but the solos are all taken over a walking swing. The melody is a little dated but charming nevertheless. The tune had some form of pedigree, having been recorded on an earlier Blue Note date with tenor saxophonist J.R. (Frank Anthony) Montrose. On this version, the order of solos is Byrd, Jordan then Chambers. The latter two solos are spirited, Jordan’s particularly, but Chambers is able to round off his date particularly well with a rhythmically and melodically sophisticated solo. Flanagan follows the bass player and the arrangement benefits from this order of events as the tentative Flanagan is able to build on the context created by Chambers rather than pale into relative insignificance following Byrd or Jordan. Jones takes a full-blooded solo before the horns take the final head, closing the LP confidently, albeit with that nervous rumba. Downbeat critic Martin Williams wrote a review of the Paul Chambers Quintet LP for the magazine which read as follows:

This is not another blowing date, likely to be as good or as interesting as the soloists themselves are likely to make it. It is

not because Benny Golson contributed Minor Rundown and Four Strings, both of which squarely face the problem of providing pieces for a bassist-leader and for Chambers specifically with awareness of just what that problem means. Rundown has, first of all, a very good line which also manages to be funky without being affected about it. Second, it is one excellently suited for Chambers’s pizzicato style; once having heard it, it is hard to imagine it being so effective played any other way. Chambers also bows, of course, and for that approach Golson provided the Strings theme for him to work against, and it is appropriate … Chambers is of course a very good accompanist. I have heard him play with more imaginative variety, but that was with a working group, and this is a pick-up record date. He usually approaches his solos with a serious intention to create music. One might expect that to be true of every jazzman, but it isn’t, and I have heard Chambers do it under some very trying circumstances. 5

Golson would later discuss his role in the Paul Chambers Quintet LP with Italian bassist Paolo Benedettini:

BG: Oh, yes, I wrote the music … some songs… “Four Strings” I wrote for him and “Minor Rundown”. Yes, that’s right. I forgot that. Yeah that’s right. Paul Chambers was, he was working all the time; he was working recording sessions, playing the clubs, playing with Miles Davis because he was good.


BG: Yes, both of those songs; “Four Strings” and “Minor Rundown”

for Blue Note, I think. Yeah. PB: How did that happen? Did he ask you for a couple of songs?

He used to play “Stablemates” too. It was like a feature because he soloed on it. Yes. We did “Stablemates” with Miles and then John Coltrane did a date with Paul and they did “Stablemates” again and John says “I liked my solo better with Paul than with Miles”. 6


Did you write it especially for him?

Four days after his own quintet session, on 23 May, Chambers returned to the Columbia studios to continue working with Miles Davis and the Gil Evans Orchestra on the material for Miles Ahead. On this date, the band covered John Carisi’s “Springsville”, a number of takes of Evans’s second composition for the album Blues for Pablo and his arrangement of Ahmad Jamal’s “New Rhumba”. “Springsville” was one of three tunes that were brought in for the sessions for which there were existing scores (the others were “The Maids of Cadiz” and “Blues for Pablo”) although Evans extensively reworked the

arrangement. John Carisi, who was born in New Jersey on 23 February 1922 and of Italian-American extraction, was an arranger-composer and trumpet player who is probably most widely recognized as one of the contributors to the Birth of the Cool sessions. His composition “Israel”, a variation on a twelve-bar D-minor blues, was one of the tunes recorded and released on 78 rpm discs by Davis and his Nonet in 1949. Carisi came to the Davis–Evans circle with a pedigree of sorts having worked as a trumpeter and arranger for Glenn Miller, Ray McKinley, Charlie Barnet and, not surprisingly, Claude Thornhill. Carisi was one of the small clique of musicians who congregated at Gil Evans’s “salon”, the room he rented on 55th Street:

When you went to Gil’s place, he was playing the latest recordings of twentieth century composition – Stravinsky, Ravel, Bartok and so on … to have a place where there was a group of guys listening to contemporary classical, that was special. Gil really had a lot of influence on all of us at the apartment because he was really stretching out musically in those years, and we started utilizing what we learned from him. In that sense, Gil was a mentor for a lot of us. 7

“Springsville” had already been recorded by Carisi himself but Evans’s new arrangement called for a faster tempo than the original. The tune opens with Davis’s lone flugelhorn before Chambers quickly launches into a fast walk underpinned by Art Taylor’s delicate ride cymbal (Philly Joe Jones would probably have hit it harder but, on this occasion, Taylor has made a musically sensitive choice). Like much of Evans’s work the arrangement is brass-heavy and features Evans’s distinctive use of lower-register instruments to cushion Carisi’s melody line. These cushions are periodically punctuated by heavier brass riffs and the occasional clarinet obligatos. The solo section intermit- tently breaks down to a trio of Davis, Chambers and Taylor with the subtle and barely discernible introduction of Wynton Kelly’s piano and offers us a further opportunity to recognize the relationship between Chambers, his drummer colleague and the soloist. The time is secure yet somehow lacks the intensity of a Davis small-group side. This could, however, be put down to the recording. The tune ends on a held note that segues into Evans’s arrangement of Delibes’s “The Maids of Cadiz”. The opening chords are strangely prophetic and further hint at what was to come when Evans approached Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez”. They are immediately followed by a Chambers interlude. As the piece settles, Chambers puts his hat into the ring for an award as the slowest bass player in jazz. The arrangement calls for a two-feel at a painfully slow yet beautifully melancholic tempo. Evans’s arrangement of Delibes’s theme is little more than an extended thirty-two-bar form played once through but the slow pace of things creates the kind of mood for which the Thornhill band were

renowned; the momentum is glacial if not geological. The delicate statements by Chambers are the most frenetic part of the performance and yet his tone renders them fully in keeping with the ambience of the piece. The piece again ends with a hung chord which is quickly interrupted by the larger ensemble. Chambers is joined by Bill Barber for a sedate walk through Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke”. As the arrangement ends, Davis solos again with only Chambers and Taylor to support him. The relationship between Chambers’s lines and Evans’s arrangement bears repeated listening, as does Evans’s intriguing instrumental choices for each section of the melody. “Miles Ahead”, credited as a Davis/Evans collaboration but actually thought to be a Davis composition arranged by Evans, features some of the most densely arranged music of the whole album and yet its delicacy remains a credit not only to Evans’s pen but to the musicality of the orchestra. Chambers plays the tune straight but we hear some delightfully skipping lines around 1.09, repeated throughout the arrangement. In many respects, Chambers has the greatest amount of freedom of any of the players on these recordings, with the obvious exception of Davis himself. The contribution his bass plays to this particular arrangement is, once more, subtle yet profound. “Blues for Pablo” appears first on the second side of the original LP and opens with what can only be described as a quiet clarion call. Brookmeyer describes being “overcome by a sense of wide, desolate, endless plains, hollow and lonely with a very Spanish flavour …”. 8 Blues for Pablo had actually appeared on an earlier recording around twelve months previously, on a date led by Hal McKusick, but the piece was rearranged for the Miles Ahead recording. The opening notes by Davis are profound but it is a useful exercise to focus on Chambers’s bass throughout. It is apparent that Chambers is reading a fairly sophisticated chart by the big band standards of the day. The role of the bass within the arrangement of “Blues for Pablo” changes almost moment to moment, from a unison line to a walk, from a four- to a two-feel, and often defines the piece as much as the flugelhorn does. Yet Chambers clearly performs the piece as a unified whole, maintaining a consistency of approach that is testament to his artistic vision. The piece is again painfully slow and supports the argument that the work Davis had undertaken since the Birth of the Cool sessions had been a reaction to the frantic excesses of be-bop. The dynamic range within “Blues for Pablo” is a credit to all involved; the trumpet stabs at 2.33 could only have worked against the serenity of the rest of the arrangement. At several points in the arrangement, the movement of “Blues for Pablo” is generated almost wholly by Chambers with only a little help from Art Taylor. It is testimony to the delicacy of this large ensemble arrangement that, on the 1997 re-issue of the recording, during a more contemplative moment (3.50–3.53), one of the people present at the session can be heard speaking. Ahmad Jamal’s “New Rhumba” opens with a call-and-response figure featuring Chambers as the response. Evans cleverly turns the initial call

into a response to Davis’s melody line. The power of the opening chords is antithetical to the subsequent arrangement, however, and, although the figures are repeated throughout the performance, they are never again so overwhelming. On the final date, 27 May, the recordings made were further takes of “Springsville”, “The Maids of Cadiz” and “My Ship”, a number of attempts at medley featuring a Troup–Worth composition “The Meaning of the Blues” and a J.J. Johnson tune entitled “Lament” and, finally, a Spina–Elliot tune called “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (by Anyone but You)”. With reference to the medley, the contribution of Chambers throughout these two pieces is easy to overlook. His time and phrasing are simplicity itself but herein lies the innate musicality for which he should be renowned. There was another date in August of that year (22nd) when Davis re-entered the studio to add overdubs to previously recorded performances but, for Chambers, today meant closure. “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed” comes as a relief. It is the most light-hearted piece on the album and, in many ways, the most conventional. A light cough at 0.55 fails to take attention away from the relaxed swing created by Chambers and Taylor. Again it is rarely commented upon that the front line of a larger ensemble relies a great deal on the capacity of its rhythm section to maintain a consistent groove. It is undoubtedly the case that the musicians on these sessions would have recognized the value of the extremely comfortable cushion created by the bass and drums in a similar way that Paris chorus girls had expressed a preference for dancing to the beat of Kenny Clarke. Bill Cole reserved special praise for Chambers in his 1974 biography of Miles Davis:

Chambers’s task of playing many written parts and others with only assigned changes is especially effective. He plays many sequences with the tuba which are moving in opposite directions, handling them flawlessly in excellent intonation. He obviously studied the music earlier, because there are many abrupt tempo changes, rhythm changes, and free rhythm parts occurring at the beginning, middle and end of phrases, all of which he negotiates impeccably. 9

Cook would later recall some less than flattering perspectives on this material, even from the musicians themselves:

in some senses Evans was not really up to [the task]: there were murmurings among a few of the musicians on the dates that Gil’s conducting and instructions to the ensemble had an imprecision which could cause confusion, and as fine as much of the playing is, the music here and there is blemished by ensemble flaws which a more skilled director might have eliminated. 10

Such criticisms may be a consequence of the limited rehearsal time offered the ensemble but the general perspectives that history has seen fit to place on the project are positive. Larry Hicock, in his Evans biography Castles Made of Sound, described the far-reaching impact of Miles Ahead as follows:

“Miles Ahead” was an immediate success on every level – artistic, commercial, financial, aesthetic, and critical. It bolstered Columbia’s image in the jazz market. It enhanced George Avakian’s reputation not only as a hit-maker but also as a producer of jazz as art music. It solidified the emergence of Miles Davis as the foremost jazz voice of his time. And it brought Gil Evans into the limelight for the first time in his career. “Miles Ahead” was his biggest assignment ever, as an arranger and certainly as a conductor, and only his second project in the recording studio. After years of obscurity and relative inactivity, his return to the jazz scene was an artistic triumph and also the sweetest of personal victories. 11

Miles Ahead was described by critic Max Harrison as “light imprisoned in a bright mineral cave, its refinement such that at times the music flickers deliciously between existence and non-existence”. 12 Whatever the source of the plaudits that were and continue to be heaped upon Miles Ahead, the contri- bution of Paul Chambers’s bass to the package’s overall musical success is easy for the layperson to overlook. The fundamental characteristics of the music performed on Miles Ahead underpinned the arrangements written for the next two Davis albums, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. While a whole range of biographies of Davis and Evans discuss the three albums as a sequential work, it must be remembered that for the musicians involved, and particularly for Chambers, the need to generate a reasonable income, rather than to be involved in a collection of historically or simply aesthetically important works, remained uppermost in their minds. On the last day of May 1957, Chambers would return to the studios with John Coltrane to record a series of numbers with a sextet that included Sahib Shihab on baritone saxophone, Johnny Splawn on trumpet, Red Garland or Mal Waldron on piano and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums. Among the material captured on that date was a version of “I Hear a Rhapsody” which swings from the first bar, although only Chambers, Garland and Heath joined Coltrane on this particular take. “I Hear a Rhapsody” would be released as part of a package made up of parts of several sessions involving Coltrane with three different rhythm sections, only two of which featured Chambers. The LP Lush Life (Prestige LP7188) was well received, earning five stars in a Downbeat review. 13 The reviewer refers to a mood of Coltrane’s “romantic lyricism” referring to “I Hear a Rhapsody” specifically as “exhilarating”.

The following week turned out to be an eventful one for Chambers and the need for a regular income was further compounded when, on 7 June 1957, Chambers and his wife Ann had their second son (Paul’s third), Pierre Chambers. “She said [Paul] was gentle and loving during that time in her life”. 14 Less than a fortnight later, on 19 June 1957, Chambers took part in the third of three sessions that would provide the material for Sonny Rollins’s The Sound of Sonny LP on Riverside’s Contemporary Series. The earlier sessions had featured another ex-Miles Davis bass player, Percy Heath, but, for some unknown reason, Heath was not available for the 19 June (or was it that Chambers wasn’t available for the earlier dates?). The other players at the Chambers session were his old colleagues Sonny Clark on piano and Roy Haynes on drums. The Sound of Sonny gives the listening public an opportunity to compare the pulse created by Chambers with that of his predecessor in the Davis band, Percy Heath. The differences are subtle and recognizing those differences would present the lay listener with some problems. Heath’s tone never- theless rings a little less than that of Chambers, whose perspective on the momentum of his performances is lighter, rather like a young dancer next to

an old; the grace is still there but there is always a lighter spring in the step of the young. The opening of “Just in Time” drags a little and shows Heath to be a little less fluid, as does “Toot Toot Tootsie”. Heath’s walk through Clark’s solo is a lot less leaden, though, and the older man is clearly a highly competent performer. His perspectives on Chambers were not, however,

Paul Chambers was young, and his intonation

wasn’t always the best either. I used to say to him, ‘Man, why don’t you play in tune more?’” 15 On “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, Chambers opens with a two-feel and walks the middle eight bars, but the performance is merely functional. The second chorus, a stop chorus, gives Rollins space to make magic and allows the listener to digest his famous tone with a clear palette. The CD bonus track, an improvised head subsequently entitled “Funky Hotel Blues”, is classic Rollins and it is apparent that the saxophonist is the leader but, at least on this occasion, we at least get to hear Chambers covering the twelve-bar blues form with what opens as an unusually tentative solo. The confidence gradually returns, however, and the solo resolves satisfactorily. Rollins and Clark trade four-bar sequences for another couple of choruses before the leader takes it home. The Sound of Sonny is not the greatest Rollins LP but it represents one of the few opportunities we have to hear Rollins backed by a rhythm section containing one of the most promising young bass players of the day, Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers Jr. The Prestige After Hours package, recorded two days after the Rollins session, presents a small group that feels a little tighter than many of the “pick-up” bands that defined the Prestige stable. The LP earned a four-star

always positive: “you know

Downbeat review and ringing endorsement from Don Gold in the 6 March 1958 edition of the magazine, where Gold makes specific reference to Chambers’s forceful soloing. While there are many familiar faces in the rhythm section, namely Kenny Burrell, Mal Waldron and Art Taylor, the presence of Basie sidemen Jones and saxophonist Frank Wess in the front line would have guaranteed that the band had at least a fighting chance when it reported for duty on 21 June 1957. Another set comprising solely of Mal Waldron compositions, “Steamin’”, the album’s opener does what it says on the tin. The tune motors along apace and Chambers’s notes have barely enough time to form before he has moved on. Jones and Wess are sharp as tacks and Wess’s flute sounds particularly fresh. The piano solo sounds laboured, however, as if Waldron and Taylor are playing one notch faster than is comfortable. The dynamic control of the two horns during the last head is exquisite. “Blue Jelly” strolls casually into view, its melody presented by Burrell with padding from Jones and Wess on muted trumpet and flute respectively. The mute remains in place for the trumpet solo and Jones shows a more sensitive side to his playing. Burrell and Waldron are finally on home turf, with Chambers and Taylor providing sterling support with a relaxed walk. The solos are set to overlap the chorus lines, creating an interesting texture to the performance. A couple of double-timed passages fail to shake Chambers, and his walking lines provide the perfect foil for the soloists. In a conserv- ative world, the bass player’s workman-like performance on this track alone would ensure that the phone never stopped ringing. Chambers takes a bowed solo this time, his sixteenth-note lines jarring slightly with the atmosphere created by the composition and maintained by the previous soloists. Burrell re-establishes that groove, however, and Chambers returns to a two-feel for the final head. “Count One” is another twelve-bar, with Wess doing his take on that Ben Webster vibe. The whole band is more able to excel at this tempo and all parties are in the proverbial pocket. An interesting point to consider is the way the groove changes for the bass solo. Burrell tries to maintain the feel but the absence of Chambers’s walking lines completely stalls the forward momentum of the piece, which re-establishes itself only when the walking lines return. “Empty Street” is aptly titled, the melancholic mood created by Waldron’s arrangement and the mute/flute pairing projecting a loneliness that is not yet desperate. In a similar vein to Ann Ronell’s “Willow Weep for Me”, the piece evolves into a warmer place when the solos start. The warmth of Wess’s flute is particularly fitting. This street is lonely but the sun is still shining. The bass solo is only a part chorus and could probably have been left out without too much detriment. In the 27 June edition of Downbeat, Chambers was given the honour of taking part in one of Leonard Feather’s legendary “blindfold tests”. 16 The opening paragraph of the article drew the readers’ attention to the fact that

the magazine had been first published around eight months before Chambers was born and, consequently, Feather chose, perhaps unfairly, to play the twenty-three-year-old Chambers ten recordings that bridged the period between their respective births and the present day. For those who don’t know the form that these tests took, Feather would play his guests recordings without acquainting them to the players involved or title of the compositions, forcing the subject to judge the recordings on the music alone. Chambers gave a Nat King Cole trio recording of “Honeysuckle Rose” three stars but failed to identify any of the participants, including Cole or bass player Wesley Prince. “I like to listen to records of this type because ordinarily, regardless of how far back it goes, you can get things out of it.

It definitely swings”. Chambers went on to give four stars to a Bob Crosby

recording of “Fidgety Feet”. “I always like good Dixieland, and I think it had a very good Dixieland ensemble to it”. Despite his interest in earlier forms, Chambers failed to identify either a 1934 Fletcher Henderson recording of “Down South Camp Meeting” or a 1938 John Kirby take on Billy Kyle’s “From


Flat to C”. While he failed to recognize the main protagonists, Chambers was able


identify Count Basie’s piano on a Metronome All-Stars recording of “One

o’Clock Jump”. He had considerably more success in correctly identifying Quincy Jones as the arranger of and Art Farmer as the trumpet player on Clifford Brown’s “’Scuse These Blues”. The bass player spotted his instru- mental peers Chubby Jackson, as the bassist on Woody Herman’s “Igor”, and Jimmy Blanton, his early idol, on Duke Ellington’s “Sepia Panorama”. “When it comes to Jimmy, I’m a little prejudiced because he’s my favourite. I think he’s wonderful. I’ll have to give it five stars – at least”. 17

The bass player earned full marks, however, when he identified Thelonious Monk, Kenny Dorham and Lucky Thompson as the pianist, trumpeter and saxophonist respectively on Monk’s 1951 recording of “Carolina Moon” (although he did mistake Max Roach for Art Blakey on the same take). He ended on a high by recognizing the contemporary work of Jimmy Giuffre on his own 1957 recording of “The Train and the River”, a take that Chambers described as “very well put together”. On 14 July 1957, Alfred Lion afforded Chambers a third opportunity to record for the Blue Note label. The LP in question would be called Bass on Top (Blue Note 1569) and would be the final occasion on which Chambers would record, as a leader, for the label. On this occasion, Chambers called on the services of a couple of old friends from Detroit, namely guitarist Kenny Burrell, and pianist Hank Jones, the oldest of the Jones boys with whom Chambers had jammed in Pontiac. The last seat in this particular small group went to Chambers’s regular colleague from dozens of sideman dates, drummer Art Taylor. Despite the bass player’s familiarity with each of the players involved, having been a member of the quintet that produced the Whims of Chambers LP, Burrell was the only one of the Bass on Top sidemen

to have appeared on any of the earlier Chambers-led dates. This latest LP was, once again, recorded by Rudy Van Gelder. With this latest recording, the concept was to feature Chambers’s bass as the main melodic instrument rather than in its normal subordinate role. While this idea was not without precedent in terms of a bass player as featured soloist (the Blanton sides with Duke Ellington come to mind), the idea of a whole LP based on the idea was, in many ways, a gamble, and credit should be given to Lion for having the courage to take the model forward. Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays” opens with a haunting bowed intro, backed delicately by Burrell’s lightly strummed guitar. The tone of his bass is almost cello-like and it is only the occasional low note that reveals the nature of Chambers’s instrument. The melody is phased in an almost classical manner and one is left wondering whether the piece would have benefited from the use of an acoustic guitar rather than Burrell’s electric instrument. The ambience is nevertheless exquisite and it is not until the 2.50 mark that things pick up, as Chambers begins to introduce some jazzier phrasing into his solo. The subtle brushwork by Taylor provides a congruent backing for the latter section of the piece. There is an interesting cadenza at the end of the final rendering of the melody but the whole piece is a golden opportunity to sample the depth and swing of Chambers’s bowed tone. “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to” is a three-chorus tour de force of be-bop bass, albeit not one of the fastest solos Chambers would play during his career (a transcription of the bulk of this particular piece features in Jim Stinnett’s valuable book The Music of Paul Chambers). Chambers’s choice of the tune was a repeat of the suggestion he had made to use the piece as the first tune on the “surprise” session he had undertaken with Art Pepper in January 1957 and it was obviously a favourite. On this take, Chambers allows Burrell to compromise the “bass on top” concept with an exciting solo which is followed by a more pedestrian Jones outing. Despite the presence of two other intelligent soloists with considerable pedigrees, the piece belongs to Chambers. Peter Washington would later comment upon the technical aspect of Chambers’s soloing:

It’s hard technically to play like Paul … It’s just hard in a different way. It’s very hard to play melodically in half of first position which Paul did. And make it clear, and make it … you know, all those interesting intervals he plays. I think it’s hard to do that as it is to do what Scott LaFaro did, in a different way … A lot of Paul’s solos, you can play without moving out of half position, and when you think about how melodic it is, his hand is just like this the whole time. Pretty amazing! And that’s why he’s very clever to play like that. Because when you play like that, you get consistency of power in the sound. And you are playing things that are in the character

of the bass … The power of sound that Paul had, and play low on the bass, and clearly. That’s something else … He had a complete unity between what he wanted to do creatively, and his mastery of the instrument. Everything he learned about playing the bass technically served his creativity. I mean, he knew that to play most of the songs in one position is going to give him a stronger, more consistent, clear sound. 18

Parker’s “Chasin’ the Bird”, a thirty-two-bar “rhythm changes” tune, opens with a duet between Chambers and Burrell but it is the bass player who gets to take both the middle eight and the first solo. The solo is classic Chambers and is worthy of transcription (as is most of Chambers’s work). Jones takes a fine and swinging solo before Burrell offers a lesson in classic fifties jazz guitar; his tone and feel are definitive. Taylor is at last allowed out to deliver a crisp solo on brushes before Chambers and Burrell take the head out. In the early years of the twenty-first century, “Dear Old Stockholm” has become a much underrated standard and, somewhat regrettably, is rarely heard. Here, the head, an attractive melody, is performed by Burrell with fairly conventional backing from the piano/bass/drums trio. Following a soft pedal tone at the end of the head, Chambers again gets the first solo and sounds like he is having a little fun with several implied quotes finding their way into his improvisation. The bass is followed by Burrell and Jones who both make light work of the song’s sequence. Burrell takes the memorable melody out, leaving room for an improvised cadenza from Chambers in the closing moments. If there is one tune that Chambers has played a thousand times, it is the Miles Davis set closer which was long ago titled “The Theme”. The piece is essentially based around the lead-in figure for a clichéd ending, manipulated to create a series of phrases that is repeated four times with a tag ending. The structure is a thirty-two-bar sequence on an AABA form and is loosely based on the famous Gershwin/be-bop staple “I Got Rhythm”. Chambers bows the head in unison with Burrell and again takes the middle eight. He again opens the soloing, this time with his signature bowing technique, and, with the momentum created by Burrell and Taylor, makes a strong statement. Burrell again follows Chambers as Jones follows Burrell. We are then treated to a rare opportunity to hear Chambers trading fours with Taylor, then a rarely used but highly effective device, before the tune is taken out using the same arrangement with which the piece began. Chambers opens “Confessin’” with an introductory flourish then takes the melody himself, backed simply by Jones and a light off-beat on Taylor’s hi-hat. Taylor’s brushes introduce the first chorus of Chambers’s solo. There is a delightful lift in proceedings following the commencement of Jones’s own solo which is followed by a pleasant surprise: a second solo from Chambers. “Chamber Mates” wasn’t released on the original Bass on Top LP but appeared as a bonus track on several later releases of the CD. The head,

written by Chambers, is performed by the bass player and Burrell in unison but with Chambers using the bow. The resulting texture is unusual for the time and provides a perspective on the idiom that has yet to be thoroughly explored, at least in mainstream circles. Jones takes the first solo and is on top form, his lines snaking around Chambers’s bass lines. The favour is returned as Chambers’s bowed bass weaves in and out of Jones’s chords, the momentum of the piece being maintained by Taylor’s brushes alone. The use of bowed double stops in this context is courageous and the effect dramatic. Taylor takes a solo before Chambers and Burrell take the head out. In the third edition of Backbeat’s All Music Guide to Jazz, Stephen Thomas Erlewine described Bass on Top as “a thoroughly engaging set of straight- ahead, mainstream jazz”, and “a warm, entertaining collection”. 19 The material contained on Bass on Top is standard fare for many of the Blue Note issues of the time but the choice to focus on Chambers’s bass and to feature it so heavily throughout allows the listener to begin to comprehend the breadth of possibilities of the instrument and, more importantly, the player. Even in 1957 Chambers was not the only bass player to be able to pull this off. Mingus, Pettiford, Callender or Brown – many players of the time had the technique available to take this step but, as with most innovations, it is not simply the ability that defines the artist, it is having both the idea and the courage to follow it through that creates the opportunity for the individual performer to make the event happen. With the help of Lion and Van Gelder, Chambers has left us with an invaluable document of his playing which, if studied closely, could give the student of jazz bass playing a comprehensive insight into the specific demands and vocabulary of the genre. By transcribing the contents of this whole recording, a perfectly feasible undertaking due to the nature of the product and the quality of Van Gelder’s recording, a developing player could gather a plethora of devices which would serve her or him well throughout his or her career. Bass on Top received its now customary Downbeat review, this time from Ralph. J. Gleason:

On the basis of this LP alone, I would rank Chambers as one of the best bassists in jazz and certainly the most exciting performer on that instrument to appear in recent years. He has the ability to keep the listener’s full attention while playing a solo; he thinks of interesting, intriguing, and beautifully logical things to play; he has excellent rhythm and supplies a fine pulse to whatever he is doing; he has the technique to do whatever he wants. The combination of these produces a remarkable bassist and on this LP he seems, to me at any rate, to be at his best. 20

Around this time, Johnny Griffin reports that he was playing a regular Monday night at Birdland with Philly Joe Jones and Wynton Kelly, using either Wilbur

Ware or Chambers on bass. 21 The Miles Davis Quintet continued to work consistently during the summer of 1957, including an appearance on a Sunday

afternoon in July at the first Great South Bay Jazz Festival. Whitney Balliett

reviewed the festival but gave only a cursory mention to “

Quintet, which included Sonny Rollins and Paul Chambers, and which included a languishing rendition by Davis, playing a tightly muted trumpet, of ‘It Never Entered My Mind’”. 22 The 3rd August offered Chambers the opportunity to record with one of the players he had admired early on in his time in Detroit. Despite well- reported difficulties and long-term decline in his mental health, Powell was on good form on 3 August and ready to play. Chambers recalled: “This was one of those lucky, one-take dates – maybe on some numbers two at the most, but we were all generally happy with the first take on most of the numbers”. 23 The drummer on this trio date, another Alfred Lion/Rudy Van Gelder production, was Art Taylor, with whom Chambers had played many times over recent months as well as, on several occasions, with Miles Davis (with Taylor deputizing for Philly Joe Jones), Red Garland, George Wallington and Jackie McLean to name but a few. Taylor had recorded with Powell previously but this was the first time that Chambers has recorded with the pianist (previous bass players to appear alongside Powell had included George Duvivier, Tommy Potter, Curly Russell and Oscar Pettiford). As an additional feature, on this particular occasion, Powell, Chambers and Taylor were joined, for three tunes, by Detroit trombonist Curtis Fuller, then a new face on the New York jazz scene. The Amazing Bud Powell: Volume Three carried the covering title Bud! and included five Powell composed trio tunes and three standards with Fuller on the front line. “Some Soul” is a lazy twelve-bar blues, simple enough on the face of it but the slow pace leaves a bass player nowhere to hide and the logic of his or her lines is crucial to the continuity of the piece (it is to Chambers’s credit that he is able to hold some level of congruence as the form disintegrates momentarily around the fifth chorus of Powell’s solo). Powell is another musician who chooses to sing along with his own lines, and the results are just short of alarming! Chambers’s single-chorus pizzicato solo is a little overpowered by Powell’s piano (on the 2002 Van Gelder edition) but the lines are relaxed (as is the intonation, at one point). Powell’s performance is edgy and, although this may not be for the right reasons, the performance has an intensity that demands attention. Powell’s second composition, “Blue Pearl”, is choppy and upbeat, in both senses of the term. The pianist presents the melody in a much fuller harmonic manner than “Some Soul” but the increased density is not felt as weight. The bass and drums, with Taylor marking time with brushes, lock into a buoyant swing and the internal logic of Chambers’s lines represents a masterclass in walking bass. His pizzicato solo is, again, short (two choruses) but neatly executed and without the intonation problems. An alternate version of the

the Miles Davis

tune (included on the 2002 package) is interesting in that the piano sounds completely different (a little more distant – evidence of Van Gelder moving the microphones about). The decision to use the chosen take is regrettable from Chambers’s point of view as the bass solo (still only two choruses) is actually a little tighter and carries a touch more interest. The second performance of “Blue Pearl” is perfectly serviceable and the choice to use the other take appears wholly subjective (a possible response to those critics who lament the inclusion of alternate takes on repackaged CDs). “Frantic Fancies” is pure be-bop in both tempo and texture. Another original based on the tune “Strike Up the Band” (which Powell had recorded in 1950), the tune features the linear “horn-like” soloing for which Powell was primarily known. Chambers takes a short arco solo this time but the results are less than satisfactory. The solo starts after a pregnant pause (while the bassist retrieves his bow) and ends with Powell’s interruption as he takes Taylor into an exchange of fours. “Keepin’ in the Groove”, another blues, is medium tempo and consequently the groove is much lighter than “Some Soul”. Chambers’s arco solo is a touch more satisfying this time, the reduced tempo allowing the bassist to form his ideas with a little more thought and a more satisfactory tone. Curtis Fuller joins the ensemble for Jess Stone’s “Idaho”, and immediately justifies his inclusion in the session. “Don’t Blame Me”, a classic thirty-two- bar AABA song form, is taken at an astonishingly slow 56 bpm. Nevertheless, the piece holds its own internal integrity, thanks to Taylor’s brushwork and Chambers’s tone. Powell sounds a little heavy-handed at times during his single solo chorus but the piece belongs to Fuller whose warm tone and impeccable execution are rarely paralleled. Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” is played by Powell and Fuller in unison at a somewhat slower pace than was normal for this piece. Fuller’s solo is a lesson in triple-tonguing. Powell is clearly enjoying himself and his solo is one of his most structured on the date. Chambers’s solo is pizzicato and indicative of time spent with Parker and Gillespie’s original recordings. A further solo piano track was recorded on 3 August, a reference to Powell’s early piano training, the classically inspired “Bud on Bach”. While it is never included among lists of his best work, overall, Bud! is generally a successful recording, Powell being sufficiently well to allow for the production of a highly credible product. The performance of Chambers and Taylor on Bud! more than justifies their involvement and the session is characteristic of Chambers’s approach to trio playing. The two men wouldn’t have to wait too long before they were working together again in a similar setting. It was only a few days later that the piano trio was the vehicle for another session, this time with Red Garland at the piano. Six tracks were captured, including “Lost April”, the cloying “Tweedle Dee Dee” and a Garland dedication to Chambers, “The P.C. Blues”. “Lost April” is pleasant if unremarkable with Chambers playing

it pretty straight, relying on the warmth of his tone to provide body to the piece. Winfield Scott’s “Tweedle Dee Dee” is a little bit of nonsense until the trio digs into a walking groove at around 1.28. From here on in, it’s serious. Taylor marks time for the first few choruses, with some cheeky interjec- tions at around 2.50, allowing Garland to make what he will of the changes. Chambers’s walk is buoyant, putting a spring in Garland’s step, and he takes a couple of choruses pizzicato, paraphrasing the melody and then developing his improvisation from the themes generated. The solo is a masterpiece of melodic invention, the phrasing and intonation are impeccable but in no way clinical. The walking lines that follow become increasingly frivolous as Garland’s second solo gets going, his delicate touch providing a light contrast to Chambers’s strong tones. The title track, one of several dedications to Chambers that appear in the discographies, is the simplest of slow twelve-bar blues tunes, the first line of which is a two-bar block chorded theme repeated six times over the changing harmonies. In tune with the ambience created by the composition, Garland’s soloing is simplicity itself, his lines remaining clean and uncluttered. Chambers’s walking lines are blues-drenched, his sound, as always, adding depth and gravitas to the occasion. His arco solo, however, is brittle and provocative, his clipped phrasing providing an aggressive twist that is unusual in his soloing, rather like a bass version of Coltrane’s saxophone sound. On 23 August, Chambers, Garland and Taylor joined Davis and John Coltrane in recording five more tunes for Prestige. The resulting material has appeared with both Garland and, later, Coltrane listed as the session leader, again as a result of Coltrane’s growing (and, possibly, Garland’s waning) commercial currency. “Traneing In”, a Coltrane composition, opens with a lengthy piano solo from Garland, evidence that this was, indeed, the pianist’s date. Garland gives way to Coltrane several minutes into the track, a forty-four-bar piece consisting of three twelve-bar blues choruses sandwiching an eight-bar descending sequence. Chambers solos for two choruses and his improvi- sation contains some unusual rhythmic figures and is anything but routine; the young bass player even hints at the melody of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (or was this great Christmas novelty song based on a Paul Chambers bass solo?)! The swing generated by Chambers and Taylor during Garland’s second solo is a lesson in solo support. Coltrane takes a second solo and his tone and lines are unmistakable. The band takes the piece out at this point. Chambers opens “Slow Dance” with some enormous bass double stops; the recording is slightly muddy but the effect profound. The melody of the tune is highly evocative of the title and could easily be seen as “fit for purpose” in that regard. Following Coltrane’s melody, Chambers takes an energetic little solo, taking advantage of the slow tempo to explore the changes more fully than usual.

Paul Chambers playing arco (photograph by Brian Foskett. © Brian Foskett). “Bass Blues”, a Coltrane

Paul Chambers playing arco (photograph by Brian Foskett. © Brian Foskett).

“Bass Blues”, a Coltrane composition, opens with a unison line performed by Chambers and Coltrane, with Garland in his best “Count Basie” mode and Taylor playing melodically rather than rhythmically. Not surprisingly, the piece is a conventional twelve-bar blues but, as always, Coltrane’s work is anything but conventional. Coltrane had yet to make his mark as one of the greatest improvisers of all time but his work is readily increasing in confidence. Garland is, again, in cocktail mode. Chambers’s solo is an arco affair; the tone moves from warm to strident and the intonation is slippery. The double stops reappear but, when bowed, become alarmingly aggressive. A short statement from Taylor precedes the reprise of the melody and his almost total absence from the final head is an effective use of restraint. Coltrane and Chambers in isolation pays equal testament to the sounds of both players. “You Leave Me Breathless” is a pretty ballad, executed with appropriate restraint but, again, there are moments when the intonation of the bass during the ensemble passages is questionable. The bass solo is a little better but it does meander a little occasionally, albeit recovering at its resolution. Coltrane continues to plough the furrow that countless others would revisit over the next five decades.

Irving Berlin’s “Soft Lights and Sweet Music” is taken ironically. The tempo is breakneck, at around 390 beats per minute, and unrelenting. Chambers manages to maintain the tempo although Taylor sounds as if he is struggling. When one gets over the obvious athleticism of the performance, however, the conclusion is that the piece fails. “Soft Lights and Sweet Music” doesn’t groove in any meaningful sense and the content of the solos is almost wholly shallow posturing. Pieces performed at this pace can be awe-inspiring but, like anything swallowed too fast, all but tasteless. As Downbeat reviewer Dom Cerulli said at the time: “You’ll want to add your gasp for breath to those following the last track, a rocketing upper-than-up wailer with Taylor and Chambers driving Garland and ’Trane to incredible heights”. 24 Cerulli also notes Chambers’s contribution to the LP, pointing to the track “Bass Blues” as a particular success for the bass player’s arco work. One of the consequences of the success of the Miles Ahead project was the decision by Prestige Records’ Bob Weinstock, prompted by Miles Davis, to offer Gil Evans the opportunity to record an album under his own name. By this time, Evans had been a “professional” musician for around twenty-five years yet this was the first time that he had recorded as a leader in his own right and, more surprisingly, the first time his piano playing had appeared on record. On 6 September 1957, Chambers took another trip out to Rudy Van Gelder’s place in Hackensack to take part in the first of three sessions that would provide material for the Gil Evan’s LP in question: Gil Evans + Ten. On this first session, Evans was joined by Chambers on double bass, Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Bart Vasalona on bass trombone, John Carisi on first trumpet, Jake Coven, second trumpet, Willie Ruff on French horn, “Zeke Tolin” (aka Lee Konitz) on alto saxophone, Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone, Dave Kurtzer on bassoon and Jo Jones on drums. A couple of the musicians, including Konitz and Carisi, had worked with Evans in the Claude Thornhill band but Chambers was simply a hold over from the Miles Ahead sessions. The collected work lacks the breadth of the Miles Ahead sessions, due, in no small part, to the size of the ensemble involved, but has its own individual strengths and remains a worthy endeavour. This first session produced only one of the performances that appeared on Gil Evans + Ten, an Irving Berlin tune called simply “Remember”. The performance is simple yet sublime and anyone who enjoys Evans’s work with Miles Davis from this period will find the aural palette on show here suitably familiar. The piece features Evans’s minimalist piano but its serenity affords us the opportunity, with a little effort, to focus on Chambers’s bass. The piece builds a little during Konitz’s alto solo but it rarely rises above a warm, comfortable glow. Chambers has his own short feature and, because of the context provided by Evan’s arrangement, for once he makes a statement that doesn’t require a major drop in the band’s dynamics. The most significant element in the arrangement was the time signature; the original composition was in 3:4 time. Evans had expanded the melody into 4:4 time.

Nine days following the “Remember” session, on 15 September 1957, Chambers would again record with John Coltrane, but this session would prove to be anything but routine. This was the date when Coltrane and Chambers entered the studio for Blue Note to record material for what was to become the classic John Coltrane album Blue Train (Coltrane was then, alongside Gil Evans, on contract to Prestige). The six-piece band that Coltrane brought together for this recording also included trumpeter Lee Morgan, then aged only nineteen, trombone player Curtis Fuller, pianist Kenny Drew and, from the Miles Davis quintet, Philly Joe Jones. Blue Train was arguably Coltrane’s first true experience of putting together an album for which he was to compose and arrange all of the material to be recorded (an earlier album was co-led with Milt Jackson). It was nevertheless apparent to all who partici- pated in the recording that something special had taken place that day. Curtis Fuller later remarked:

Man, did you hear that stuff Coltrane was playing? Trane had that ability to play beautifully even on extreme tempos and the ballads – he had a way, his playing just touched you. But that date was different … and you knew it, it had a spiritual quality. To me [ Blue Train] was well-schemed and well thought out. Every one of those songs had its own quality, would stand alone on its own merits. 25

At the time of the actual recording, Coltrane was in the middle of what was to become a legendary residency at the Five Spot in New York with another legend of be-bop, Thelonious Monk. It was an established ethos of Blue Note to allow for rehearsal time and it is apparent on this recording that the music captured was not an unrehearsed jam session like many of the recordings undertaken at Van Gelder’s place. It is also evident that the recording itself was not rushed; the version of the title track itself which Blue Note released was the ninth version (although the piano solo on the earliest commercially released version came from the eighth take). There are mixed views about the success or otherwise of this recording; Cook and Morton described Coltrane’s choice of sidemen on this date as “inappropriate players for the occasion”, 26 although Cook, ironically, went on to describe the recording as a “high-craft functional hard-bop record”, acknowledging that “Blue Train has both acquired an enormous reputation through the years, and after ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Giant Steps’, … is surely Coltrane’s most renowned and frequently encountered record”. 27 The album opens with the title track, a simple twelve-bar blues in EI which is stark in its simplicity. A five-note call leads off, played in unison by the tenor and trombone moving around the root, and is echoed by a strong two-note response played by the rhythm section. This simple yet powerful rhythmic pattern is repeated six times over the most basic of blues forms with appropriate harmonic changes as the chords of the traditional blues

form progress. Morgan joins the proceedings when the head is repeated for

a second time with three-part harmonies, Coltrane’s tenor taking the lead.

Coltrane takes the first solo, making what some regard as his first important statement as a soloist. Coltrane is joined by Morgan and Fuller after five choruses, when the two brass players provide a simple backing riff which cushions Coltrane for two choruses. The backing drops off as Coltrane continues his improvisation for a further twelve bars. This last chorus is marked by Chambers changing from a somewhat stilted walk to a curiously chirpy shuffle which borders almost on rock and roll. This continues for only four to five bars at which point Chambers, possibly seeing the error of his ways, returns to the comfort of a steady stroll. Lee Morgan takes the next chorus, initially quite tentatively but building to a strong and vibrant be-bop solo, loaded with references to the innovations of Parker and Gillespie and some clear references to the flattened fifth that these two innovators brought to the table. Chambers returns to his shuffle again in the early part of the second of Fuller’s choruses. He again abandons the idea and maintains the walk he began when Coltrane took off. Fuller shows himself to be one of the few

trombone players who can hold their own against the work of Chambers’s early employer, J.J. Johnson. The fifth chorus of this solo is again backed by the same riff as underpinned Coltrane’s, this time played on tenor and trumpet. Kenny Drew doesn’t change the world with his solo but it swings gently and serves to sustain the momentum of the performance. The third chorus hears Philly Joe Jones playing in a double-time shuffle feel. Chambers, however, chooses to refrain from such indulgences while preparing for his own solo. What follows amounts to two choruses of beautifully phrased lines that indicate a profound understanding of the melodic and harmonic possibilities of the blues form and of the be-bop genre. Chambers’s solo resolves perfectly with two quarter notes on the first two beats of the twelfth bar of his second chorus, underneath the pick-up for the closing head. “Moment’s Notice” is another strong Coltrane composition that has since become a jazz standard. The structure of the tune is interesting in that it is thirty-eight bars long. The form starts with Coltrane playing on the B-section, with its six-bar tag, before the rhythm section push the horns through a highly syncopated head which ends with a B-flat pedal over the riffing tag. Coltrane solos first and is clearly comfortable with his tune, despite its harmonic complexity. His solo is followed this time by Fuller and, in turn, by Morgan. Chambers then surprises the novice listener with a strong bowed solo, showing the breadth of his technical mastery of this aspect of his instrument,

a technique that is still rare in jazz, let alone at this tempo. Drew solos last before the horns leave the tune hanging on a minor voicing. The second- longest-serving bass player with Miles Davis, Marcus Miller, reserves praise for Chambers’s contribution to this particular track:

For me, the bass player with Miles was Paul Chambers, especially at a tempo like the one on this tune … People think of him mainly as a groove master, but check out his bowed solo on “Moment’s Notice”. Coltrane handed him the changes and they recorded it! He’s the cat as far as I’m concerned. He doesn’t get his due. 28

The liner notes from a later CD re-issue include comments from Curtis Fuller in which he relates that he had since “… been with younger musicians trying to work out that tune. And I tell them that that’s just how we did it … on a moment’s notice”. Cook appears to argue that the end, in this case, does not justify the means but Coltrane’s practice of introducing complex compositions to band members at a moment’s notice would continue, as it would with Miles Davis and, particularly in his later work, Gil Evans. “Locomotion” is a fairly conventional blues with an unconventional form in that it holds an eight-bar bridge boxed between three twelve-bar choruses. Each of the twelve-bar heads is divided into a classic blues structure of two four-bar “calls” from the horns which are answered by Coltrane’s tenor. Coltrane carries his response into the middle eight, a descending diatonic sequence, before the opening theme is repeated. Coltrane was, at this point in his career, beginning to push the boundaries of compositional complexity and was exploring the possibilities of chord progressions. His later works are clearly more sophisticated and generally more balanced but his efforts throughout Blue Train are still commendable. “Locomotion” starts with a classic Philly Joe Jones snare solo. The solos are taken in the same order as on “Moment’s Notice” but the tempo is somewhat brisker. Morgan is particularly strident but seems to have little to actually say. Chambers doesn’t solo on this tune but the tune ends with an interesting tag which allows Coltrane to stretch his ideas a little over the closing moments of the tune. The Jerome Kern ballad “I’m Old Fashioned” follows next and is interesting in as much as it could be seen to show the apparent difference between Coltrane’s developing style as an instrumentalist and that of his more conventional sidemen. Fuller plays the tune prettily but takes few real chances. Chambers is appropriately reticent throughout this performance, leaving the front line to squeeze what it can from this somewhat sentimental composition. “I’m Old Fashioned” stands out as a tune that looks backwards on an album by an artist who is beginning to point to the future. The album closes with another of Coltrane’s more sophisticated compo- sitions from this era, a conventional thirty-two-bar form with a more than usually demanding sequence. Morgan takes the melody with backing from Coltrane and Fuller before opening the soloing. Morgan sounds much as he has throughout the album: competent, confident and at least a little conserv- ative. To be fair, Morgan cannot be criticized for his contribution to this recording; his efforts would ordinarily be a credit to anyone but Coltrane was beginning to make changes to the way he was hearing his music and these