Charles Fambrough: A Friend Unlike Any Other, R.I.P.
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!