Charles Fambrough: A Friend Unlike Any Other, R.I.P.
Charles was about as humble as they come as a soloist. He held bassists Scott LaFaro and Eddie Gόmez (my long-standing musical partner) in the highest esteem. Togetherin the comfort of our friendshiphe strove to solo fluently in the upper register. Unfortunately, little of that made its way to the public, but fortunately, I still have some superb recordings we did together which amply demonstrate his agility as an Evans-style bassist. Yet, he was so self-critical, so modest in that regard. It should come as no surprise that Charles cherished the élan of the upright bass work of Stanley Clarke, an extremely agile bassist. Charles also paid great compliments to Richard Davis and Ron Carter. Of the latter he said, "He is a gem of a bassist, and personally he is one of the musicians with a huge heart." And as Charles became increasingly disabled, Wynton Marsalis stepped up to the plate to help. Charles was appreciative, to the point of gut-wrenching tears. Stanley Clarke filled the bill in more than a few ways, too. Lenny White was also a trusted member of Charles' inner circle. Lenny was a true friend, and they were huge fans of each other.
Charles had an enormous network. I know I am forgetting people; if so, I am sorry. He played with almost every musician in Philadelphia and beyond. Off the top, Charles enjoyed a mutual respect with Ralph Bowen, Marlon Simon and family, John Swana, Ralph Peterson, Steven Johns, George Colligan, Bill O'Connell, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Kirkland, David Kikoski, James Williams, Fred and Omar Hill, among so many. On the more personal side Kimberly Berry (past-WRTI broadcaster), Stuart Love (Record Producer, Clear Channel/Marathon Media), Michael J. Harrington (Radio Host), Kenyata Thompson (Emanuel's brother), and Creed Taylor (CTI Record Producer) were not only business associates but to varying extents bona fide friends and advisors. Again, I am sure if you knew him you would add your name here, too.
The jazz world does seem to understand that Charles really paid his dues, rarely deviating from what he considered to be real jazz sensibility and himself a guardian of the flame. Charles held his steady gig in the early 1980s with Art Blakey in remarkably high esteem. He felt Art's group was the higher institution of "real jazz," and he spoke lovingly of Art. Therein that higher educationhe met the Marsalis brothers, Wynton and Branford. Later, he would play and record with them on Fathers and Sons (Columbia, 1982).
Charles loved Latin-styled jazz, too, and respected the melding of African, Cuban, and classical influences. He was a student of it and gave me many of his source notes and books from which we would practice. Over the years he worked with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, and Jerry Gonzalez, and recorded with our mutual friend Chucho Valdez. Many of Charles' incredibly harmonically rich and rhythmically complicated, but highly melodic, compositions are Latin-oriented. These can be heard on his own albums as a leader, which include: Blues at Bradley's (CTI, 1993), Upright Citizen, City Tribes (Evidence, 1995), and Live @ Zanzibar Blue (Random Chance, 2002).
Though recording was just my hobbywhat a "hobby" for me: from the age of 10! Charles entrusted me to master and track many of his recordings. He also asked me to play piano on a few. For what it is worth, I greatly respected Charles as a composer. I, like so many, felt he had developed a highly unique composer's voice.
Charles unfortunately did not finish his work. His dreams were as huge as his devotion; there was still a lot of music left within him. It was really hard for me, and for those closest to him, to understand that he would never play again. What does one say to a friend who says, "Mark, you and I are going to do string quartetsI'm coming over next week!" I'm generally not sentimental, but that wrenched at my guts for many reasons.
He also once said, "I was most productive when I just had a little Casio keyboard from which to compose! This technology we both love is getting in the way, not getting to the core for me. It is too much to get it working." Amen!