Paul Chambers

Born Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers, Jr. on April 22, 1935 in Pittsburgh, PA. He died January 4, 1969 in New York, NY. He was the son of Ann Dunbar and Paul Laurence Chambers; children: Renee, Eric. Paul Chambers, a jazz bassist, was recognized by Down Beat magazine as one of the best young talent in the hard bop jazz scene. Chambers is best known for his eight year tenure with Miles Davis. He also appeared on numerous albums as a guest recording artist, including the debut albums by Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane. His bass bow style was responsible for bringing forth the bowing approach of Jimmy Blanton, an early bassist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He also introduced the arco (or bowed) style as a featured technique within the modern jazz idiom. Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers, Jr. was a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native. Chambers began music while he was in the Pittsburgh school system. He was inspired by one of his teachers to learn baritone horn. Chambers moved to Detroit with his father after the death of his mother, in 1948. He switched to tuba, and then he began studying double bass. He was taking private lessons from a bassist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra by 1952. While attending Cass Technical High School he also played in the school’s symphony orchestra. Chambers began his formal symphonic training at this time. He also became interested in bebop music. Chambers, in Down Beat, recalled that she began listening to Charlie Parker and Bud Powell when she was fifteen. “I used to play along with records at first and tried to find some of the things Parker…would do.” Leonard Feather, jazz critic, pointed out that Ray Brown and Oscar Pettiford were the first jazz musicians [Chambers] loved. Wendell Marshall and Percy Heath followed them for their rhythm section work. Charles Mingus, George Duvivier, and Milt Hinton for their technical skills and their efforts to expand the jazz bass’s scope. His favorite is Jimmy Blanton. His father insisted that Chambers become a professional pitcher. Chambers tried to practice his instrument at his family home but his father disapproved and threw his school-practice bass down the stairs. Chambers was determined to be a bassist and enrolled in musical lessons at Barry Harris’s home. Chambers began a musical apprenticeship in Detroit’s jazz scene. He performed with Kenny Burrell and Thad Jones at Klein’s Show Bar and Rouge Lounge. Chambers went on a tour in 1955 with Paul Quinchette, saxophonist. He moved to New York after his time with Quinchette and joined a group that included J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding and other trombonists. After that, he worked with Benny Green’s trio and George Wallington at Greenwich Village Cafe Bohemia. This unit consisted of Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd and Art Taylor. McLean soon brought Chambers to Miles Davis’ attention, who was looking for a bassist to his quintet. In his memoir Miles, Davis recalls that everyone was talking about Paul. Davis hired Chambers immediately after hearing Chambers. His quintet included saxophonist Sonny Rollins and pianist Red Garland. The drummer was Philly Joe Jones. Milestones I’s Jack Chambers pointed out that Davis must have known from day one that he had assembled a great rhythm section. Chambers swung in with Jones and Garland immediately. After a few rehearsals Davis’s quintet was ready to open Cafe Bohemia. Miles Davis commented that Paul Chambers was the “baby” of the group, even though he was only twenty-years old, and that he played like he’d been there forever. Rollins had left Davis’s quintet by September 1955 and was replaced in the group by John Coltrane, a Philadelphia-born saxophonist. The newly formed quintet recorded their first Columbia recordings in October 1955, while Miles was still under Prestige’s contract. A collection of fine ballads, Miles, was the group’s first album. It was recorded in November 1955. Nat Hentoff wrote in his initial review that Chambers had “a rhythm that could sustain an army band.” Following the recording of two 1956 sessions by the quintet for Prestige, Cookin’ and Relaxin’ were produced. David Rosenthal described the first album in Hard Bop as “Garland Chambers, Jones, and a trio that was closely connected to Davis and Coltrane, wrote that it was one of the most cohesive rhythm sections ever recorded in jazz history. Two more albums were also made from material from these sessions, Workin” and Steamin’. These early sessions were a benchmark for double bass playing, according to Bill Cole in Miles. The Early Years. Cole noted that Chambers and his bandleader had a close working relationship: “If Miles was moving up the register, Chambers wouldn’t be slowing down. Instead, he would move right along with Miles, suddenly shifting to a lower pitch, giving the solo an urban feel.” In March 1956, Coltrane was absent from the recording studio. Davis hired Sonny Rollins and Tommy Flanagan to record Miles Davis Allstars. The session featured Chambers, Taylor, and drummer Art Taylor. As observed in Modern Jazz, “The Flanagan-Chambers-Taylor rhythm section was probably the lightest, most distinct rhythm section modern jazz had enjoyed up to that time. Paul Chambers brought a big, dark, and buoyant sound to the group. Chambers recorded many solo albums during his time with Davis’s quintet. In Transition was his 1955 album. He recorded it with Pepper Adams and John Coltrane. John Coltrane also appeared on Chambers’ 1956 solo albums Paul Chambers and Whims Of Chambers. This effort gathered the talents of Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane as well as Philly Joe Jones, John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell. Burrell was featured on his 1957 album, Bass on Top. Hank Jones was the pianist. John Coltrane, Garland, Philly Jones and Garland made guest appearances on Sonny Rollins’s Prestige album Tenor Madness in 1956. Coltrane assembled his Blue Note musicians in September 1957 for Blue Train, his last album. Coltrane was free to choose his sidemen, and Coltrane consulted Chambers and Curtis Fuller (a former Detroiter), for this recording. Robert Levin wrote in the liner notes that “the rhythm section consisting of [pianist] Kenny Drew and Paul Chambers as well as Philly Joe Jones was superb.” “Drew is a blues-rooted pianist with a swinging, cohesive technique. Chambers and Jones are best known for their brilliant work with Miles Davis. Fuller, who rehearsed often with Coltrane, recalls in Thinking Jazz how Chambers and Jones were primarily known for their sparkling work with Miles Davis. He got this thing from Koussevitsky–Poloniase in D Minor–and he’d say, ‘Hey Curtis, let’s play this one.’ He would play it together for about three to four hours, even though it wasn’t a duet. We would play it again a few days later. It was a beautiful thing, and the camaraderie was amazing.” Chambers was the bass player on Miles Ahead’s May 1957 album. This session was for a large ensemble that Gil Evans had arranged. Bill Cole discusses the role of the bass in Miles Davis: the Early Years. “[Chambers] plays many sections with the tuba that are moving in opposing directions, and handles them flawlessly in great intonation. Chambers was part of Davis’s 1957 touring group that included Red Garland and Sonny Rollins. After Taylor and Rollins left, Davis hired Philly Joe Jones again and assembled a sextet featuring the saxophones Coltrane (and Cannonball Adderly). According to Davis’ memoir Miles Chambers was credited with the crucial role of “anchoring [all] the creative tension between the trumpets,” The sextet recorded Davis’ 1958 album Milestones, supported by the Garland Chambers-Jones rhythm band. Charles Edward Smith noted that Chambers’s “rare beauty in tone” was combined with an exceptional technical gift and, underpinning it, such strong swing sense that he could carry his own rhythm. The rhythm section of the album Kenny Burrell u0026 John Coltrane was formed by Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and Tommy Flanagan in March 1958. Flanagan’s “Big Paul”, a song dedicated to Chambers, is included on the album. Joe Goldberg wrote that Paul Chambers’ “walking introduction to the tune” “brings back a whole era.” Flanagan and Cobb slide effortlessly under him, as though they had all the time in this world. Cobb joined Davis’s quintet after Philly Joe Jones quit Davis’s band in May 1958. For his orchestral jazz album Porgy and Bess, Davis and Gil Evans brought in Chambers and Bill Barber as the low-end accompaniment. According to Barry Kernfield, in The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz: “The Buzzard Song” u0026 “Bess. You Is My Woman Now”, Chambers and Barber “are paired together but not as bass instruments; instead, they play a jumpy, low-pitched melody” that blends with Evans’s score for brass and woodwinds sections. Cannonball Adderly’s album Cannonball Adderly Quiet was recorded in February 1959 by the Kelly-Chambers – Cobb section. The core rhythm section of Davis’s Kind of Blue album was formed by Chambers and Cobb in March and April 1959. Kind of Blue was one of the most important recordings of the decade. It produced two standards: “So What” (with pianist Bill Evans), and “All Blues” (with Chambers as the bass player). Chambers’s bass work in “So What” was a jazz classic that has been incorporated into nearly every jazz group. Kelly and Chambers joined Art Taylor, the drummer, for John Coltrane’s landmark album Giant Steps a month after the Kind of Blue session of 1959. Chambers plays the accompaniment to “Naima”, a composition that echos Coltrane’s later harmonic explorations. Coltrane’s Giant Steps was a tribute to Paul Chambers, by including the minor blues “Mr. P.C.” P.C.” Chambers continued as a studio musician in 1960. He was part of a ten-piece band that included Roy Haynes and featured on Oliver Nelson’s MCA album Blues and the Abstract Truth. Chambers also appeared on Art Pepper’s Gettin’ It Together and Hank Mobley’s Roll Call and Work Out. Chambers was accompanied by Wynton Kelly, Philly Joe Jones and guitarist Grant Green. Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly, a Jamaican-born pianist, joined Miles Davis for Miles’s 1959 album Someday My Prince Will Come. For his 1961 live recordings at San Francisco’s Blackhawk, the Kelly-Chambers–Cobb rhythm section supported Davis. The 1961 Down Beat poll honored the contributions of the section and awarded Davis’s unit Best Cobo. The Kelly- Chambers/Cobb rhythm section, which was joined by Johnny Griffin as a saxophonist, performed live for Wes Montgomery. It appeared on Montgomery’s Riverside album Full House. In 1963, Kelly and Chambers left Davis’s band. Miles later told Davis that Kelly and Chambers left Davis’s band because they wanted more money. Kelly wanted to record their music. By this point they were highly sought after. Soon afterward Cobb left Davis to join Kelly and Chambers in the formation a critically acclaimed trio. Hank Mobley’s 1965 album The Turnaround was recorded by Art Blakey and Chambers. Tom Piazza, in The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz described the recording as “a strong swinging set in that Mobley’s most toughest edge is brought forth.” Chambers was reunited with Sonny Criss, a saxophonist, and collaborated with Barry Harris at New York’s West Boondock Club. Chambers, who had been a heavy user of drugs for many years, died on January 4, 1969 from tuberculosis. John Coltrane called Chambers “one the greatest jazz bass players” in the Giant Steps liner notes. Chambers was indebted to Percy Heath and Oscar Pettiford for their unique styles. He accompanied many of the best jazz musicians of the hard bop school. Chambers’s use micro-tones and pitch inflection as well as inventive chromatic figures are examples of what scholars call a “lyrical bass style”. John Coltrane observed that Chambers was a master of tempo. “He could play in any combination or syncopated lines and when he applied his innovative technique to medium-tempo blues, he was unbeatable as an accompanist.” Chambers’s exceptional musicianship is still an inspiration to those who want to continue the pursuit of jazz double bass.

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