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

By Published: January 10, 2011
Charles was about as humble as they come as a soloist. He held bassists Scott LaFaro
Scott LaFaro
Scott LaFaro
1936 - 1961
bass
and Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
b.1944
bass
(my long-standing musical partner) in the highest esteem. Together—in the comfort of our friendship—he 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
Richard Davis
Richard Davis
b.1930
bass
and Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
. 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
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
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
Lenny White
Lenny White
b.1949
drums
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
Ralph Bowen
Ralph Bowen

sax, tenor
, Marlon Simon
Marlon Simon
Marlon Simon
b.1961
percussion
and family, John Swana
John Swana
John Swana

trumpet
, Ralph Peterson
Ralph Peterson
Ralph Peterson
b.1962
drums
, Steven Johns, George Colligan
George Colligan
George Colligan
b.1969
keyboard
, Bill O'Connell, Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
1955 - 2013
piano
, Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland
1955 - 1998
piano
, David Kikoski
David Kikoski
David Kikoski
b.1961
piano
, James Williams
James Williams
James Williams
1951 - 2004
piano
, 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
Creed Taylor
Creed Taylor
b.1929
producer
(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
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
in remarkably high esteem. He felt Art's group was the higher institution of "real jazz," and he spoke lovingly of Art. There—in that higher education—he 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
Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
b.1941
percussion
and Flora Purim
Flora Purim
Flora Purim
b.1942
vocalist
, and Jerry Gonzalez
Jerry Gonzalez
Jerry Gonzalez
b.1949
trumpet
, 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 hobby—what 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 quartets—I'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!


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