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

By Published: January 10, 2011
About 15 years ago we were mixing a record. Working side by side with Charles gave me my engineering chops; when something would sound right, (with that huge grin) he would invariably extend his open, then closed, hand in what I would call the forerunner of the "DAP." On one of these DAPS, I actually saw him, and he saw me. That may sound kind of strange after 30 years of being friends, but it taught me one of the most significant things in life. It is in the deepest parts of the eyes where real relationships are born, take root, and grow. In that moment, the already enduring, underlying connection between us was shorn of all pretense and all extraneous consideration. It was just one person to another: plain and simple. That type of contact renders all social barriers powerless. It is then you know you have a real brother or sister. It is then when you know that just because you seem, by outward appearances, to belong to the same tribe, it does not mean that everyone within that tribe is your "Brother/Sister," or that those out of it are not. Now that I think of it, one of the last things Charles said to me was, "You know you have been intensely reverse discriminated." I just said to him, "Cut it out! I got more than I ever deserved." Such was his advocacy.

I bring up all of this stuff of race because it has been one of the really big issues in jazz—a divisive as well as unifying one. I do not shy away from this chapter of our life together in the context of this tribute to him, because the purpose is to highlight graphically that Charles was not only a magnificent bassist, composer and champion of the roots of his art, but also quite an evolved person, way beyond corporeal forms.

He was a great family man, neighbor, teacher, and member of his communities. He and Delores were intent on giving the family a safe/healthy place to live, a stable base of operations. This he and Delores did, and with great resourcefulness.

During my life Charles gave me so much. He introduced me without embarrassment, with pride in fact, to many of Jazz's most notable. He was at times my employer. He believed in my engineering and playing and let me teach him anything I could, and he would always respond in kind. He brought me in as his featured artist at Chris' Jazz Café, a stint which would last for me for 3 years—then as house pianist. Before that, he dragged me out to Newtown's Ye Olde Temperance House. And when Shirley Scott
Shirley Scott
Shirley Scott
1934 - 2002
organ, Hammond B3
could no longer do the gig, he convinced the owner to entrust it with me. There I carried the gift with greatest care, and practiced my craft for over 10 years in trios and quartets, with and without him.

At his last benefit at the Clef Club late last year, my wife Meryl and I were sitting with him and Delores. He asked me to get up there and play for him. I said, "Charles, I am not going to push my way up there!" He said, "You have to learn how to do that!" I said, "Charles, that's what you have always done for me." And then, with that somber look of knowing he did not have long, he said "You are going to have to learn." He never asked me for a thing. I always had to figure out indirect ways to repay.

Now, I am filled with a grief I have never known before in my life. Notwithstanding, this grief is tinged with everything that has been good in this life.

Today, three days after writing the above, I actually took out my phone to call Charles, as I had not heard from him. There was so much to tell my friend; he'd have so much to tell me. Then I realized, as in the fog of denial, that he was gone. Though the reality of it all is tearing me up, I feel his smiling prescience all around me. He is still here with us/me, maybe for just a little while longer. I feel he still may need our help; his questions feel real. But I know he will be off soon, on his glorious way, to much better concert conditions—a greater sound.

Photo Credit

Page 2, Alan Jackman

Page 3, Mark Kramer


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