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
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.