Sunday, January 2, 2011

Upright Citizen: R.I.P. Charles Fambrough

I was saddened last night when I heard the news of the death of bassist Charles Fambrough. "Broski",as he was known, worked with so many of the legends, from McCoy Tyner to Art Blakey, from Grover Washington, Jr. to Airto Moreira. I was first made aware of Fambrough from an Art Blakey record called Album of The Year, (which also featured a very young Wynton Marsalis).
Another favorite was an album called Thunder and Rainbows, a power trio of Fambrough, pianist Kenny Kirkland, and drummer Jeff Watts. (Many folks are not aware that Charles was the leader on this date.) Fambrough was a driven bandleader and composer. Albums such as "The Proper Angle", "Upright Citizen", and "The Charmer" showcase his formidable compositional skills. And others such as Blakey and Tyner performed and recorded his tunes. Indeed, Broski's tune entitled "Little Man" is practically a jazz standard.

I was fortunate to work with Charles every now and then for the last 10 years or so. I first met Charles at Ortlieb's Jazz Club in Philadelphia. I remember how nice he and his wife Delores were to me. (I usually find people and musicians from Philly to be very down to earth and the Fambroughs are no exception.) Charles was a talkative guy, quite opinionated, and always seemed to be talking about music. He seemed like somebody that  could not hide his enthusiasm if he heard good music being played.

He had high standards for what he wanted for his band. I suspect that probably came from his years with Art Blakey. He told me how he would play with Blakey at the Vanguard, and there would be a line of horn players standing near the stage, waiting for their chance to sit in. Then Blakey would call the Walter Davis Jr. composition "Uranus", a tune which has many treacherous harmonic twists. That would make most of the horn players sit down!

Charles liked energy in his music, especially when it came to rhythm. He almost approached it like a sport. He wanted the music to be at as high a level as possible. I'm thinking of some of the drummers who shared the bandstand with Charles and myself: Lenny White, Ralph Peterson, Wilby Fletcher, Mike Clark, Ari Hoenig, Johnathan Blake, Byron Landham. If you played with Charles, you needed to bring some energy.

I only recorded with Charles twice. One record is called Stone Jazz, which is arrangements of music from the Rolling Stones. And the other is Towner Galaher's Courageous Hearts. Charles appeared on many recordings as a sideman; check out his section on allmusic.com
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/charles-fambrough-p6484/credits/date-asc/

I have fond memories of a New Year's gig that I played with Charles and his wife Delores (she is a fine vocalist) many years ago. I took the bus out to Allentown, and Charles picked me up. As we drove to the gig, Charles had so many stories about the "cats" that it was astounding. I'm always humbled when I speak to older players who have been playing longer than I've been alive; it always gives me a humbling perspective. However, I never felt like Charles condescended to me; he always treated me like a peer.

Charles had health issues for many of his last years, but it never seemed to deter him from his passion for music. He talked about his condition like it was a minor nuisance. He seemed determined to press on despite his health. It's a shame that he passed so young. R.I. P., Broski.

18 comments:

  1. RIP Mr.Fambrough

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  2. I just read this blog and want to tell you George that Charles and I loved you and your passion for music also. Charles always said that you were one of the baddest pianist on the planet. I will miss not going to a gig with you and Charles and seeing that little red keyboard (remember that?). He is at peace and playing with that big band in heaven. I guess they needed another bass player. He fought long and hard with End Stage Renal Disease and he can now rest. Please keep in touch.
    Dolores Fambrough

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  3. i saw charles fambrough at least twice with mccoy tyner. he had unbelievable energy on the bandstand. very inspiring how much he brought to the music. i'll never forget when his album "proper angle" came on the radio. it was so refreshing and different to hear real soul music.
    he will be missed. he made an important contribution to the music. G-d bless him.

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  4. I first met Charles while he was playing with Mccoy Tyner. I attended almost every show they did at the Village gate in NYC back then. My mentors at the time were Reggie Workman and Serone they were my big brothers who inspired me to reach for my best. Charles and I were probably about the same age, so it was great to see a cat who was so on it that was about my age. Charles was a great Bassist, quite an inspiration, and a very generous person, very down to earth, always willing to spend some time with you. I considered him a friend though we only caught up to each other gigs. There was one time we hung at Kenny Kirklands house in Los Angeles when Charles and Stanley Clarke stopped, what a great moment! Thank you Charles Fambrough, You were greatly appreciated by many, we will carry forward the great times and memories that we shared.
    Cleve Alleyne

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  5. ps, his sound on the bass was very distinctive..he had his own voice on the instrument and always lifted up the band....

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  6. I remember growing up and hearing Mr. Fambrough on records, then later, after moving to Boston, seeing him a few times with Blakey and Tyner. I always loved his approach, very Mingus-esque in my opinion, that great mixture of technique and raw power. I hadn't heard much about him in the past several years and was saddened to hear of his death. I think he (like a lot of jazz musicians) was vastly underappreciated.
    and Mr. Colligan, I saw you a while ago with Ronnie Cuber and Cuber, the band, and especially you, totally knocked me out!

    keith hedger

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  7. I was shocked to hear that Charles is gone. I absolutely love his album, "The Proper Angle." I believe I first heard it on KLON via Tulsa Cable's FM service in the early 90s. When I visited L.A., this music was playing in my head. RIP, Charles.

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  8. I remember playing two gigs with him iNY w Masuo on guitar. Someone had shaken his hand too hard and he was really pissed! So we started playing and it was just standards and he seemed to know none of them straight out, but whatever tune was called, he'd always ask the Masuo (guitar) "just gimmee a few bars of it, and in so doing, found his way along the entirety of EVERY tune. I've never quite experienced anything like that. Oh, and he could play, too. Used to see him a lot on the sunburst Fender bass he had w Roy Haynes Hip Ensemble.

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