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James Cammack: Where You At?

By Published: October 9, 2012
Cammack also played a lot with classical/jazz pianist Frank Richmond: "He was a great, great friend of mine," recalls Cammack. "Frank Richmond I have to say was the biggest educational foundation for me of a lot of music I learned. He was a tremendous influence on me and a source of a lot of music, learning about a lot of jazz, learning a lot of songs. It's priceless the experience I have from working with Frank. It helped me to learn how to play in a duo setting. It helped me to learn to listen to the focal point at any time which is the soloist, and to move my listening in different directions. In the process" states Cammack, "it helped me and prepared me for dealing with Mr. Jamal."

Richmond played at the hotel Fairer which was located on WestPoint, where the two musicians would play together as a duo. "I would finish work at the band and Frank would call me and say: 'Hey man, come on over and let's play.' So I'd carry my upright bass over and we would just play like crazy, play anything we felt like playing. We did so much playing together we just got locked on really well."

One day, Cammack had just arrived home from a gig with the marching band and was unwinding when the phone rang: "I'll never forget it," laughs Cammack. "Frank says: 'Guess who I was just hanging out with? I've been hanging out with [drummer] Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums
and Ahmad Jamal.' Cammack was suitably impressed as Richmond went on: "Yeah, we've been talking about music and I played a little bit for him. He says he needs a bassist and he wants to meet you.'"Cammack thought his good friend was putting him on, but Richmond, Cammack relates, was insistent:"'No really man, he wants to meet you. I gave him your phone number, he's gonna call you in about twenty minutes.'"

Cammack, however, was tiring of the joke: "I said, 'Yeah, okay Frank, I'm hot and sweaty, I'll see you later.' And I hung up. I thought, Ahmad Jamal's not gonna call me. He's got every monster bassist out there: Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
b.1944
bass, acoustic
, Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
, Ray Brown
Ray Brown
Ray Brown
1926 - 2002
bass, acoustic
, all the monsters, he doesn't need me. I can't play bass."

Richmond called again, to alert the doubting Cammack to the fact that Jamal would call in fifteen minutes, but Cammack paid little heed to his friend and jumped into the shower: "So, fifteen minutes later I get another call. I said: 'Frank man, if you don't stop bugging me...' It's Ahmad Jamal. I jumped out of my socks," says Cammack. "I stood up to attention so fast I didn't know what hit me. I said: 'Er, sorry sir.' Ahmad says: 'This Frank Richmond guy says you're some kind of bassist. Well, I tell you what, I want you to come up to my house whenever you can. You got a bass? Come up.' Oh Frank, man, what have you got me into?" laughs Cammack recalling the shock. "What in the world has just happened?"

When Cammack told his friends that he had an audition with the great Ahmad Jamal, the next day, they rushed him over all the Jamal vinyl they had between them and Cammack started cramming. As it turned out, it would be better preparation for the gigs that would follow than for the actual audition: "I went up and played with him, and we just played whatever came off the top of his hat. He started playing and I followed him. I played all upright at that time but I brought my fretless bass too. And we played man, god almighty; we played for about four hours just straight. Just goin' at it. Man, I was in shock. I didn't know what to do but I just played. Then we took a break and his beautiful wife Laura made a ridiculous dinner for us."

"After a further ten or fifteen-minute session," continues Cammack, "Mr. Jamal said: 'What's that?' I said: 'That's my fretless bass.' He said: 'Play it; let's see what it sounds like.' So I played it and he said: 'Stay right here, I'll be right back.' So he went into the back of his house," relates Cammack, "and I'm scared. I'm thinking, what the hell is going on here? I've got no business in this man's house. I'm not a bassist, man. He comes back out and stands next to me and he's looking at me, and he's got this big calendar in his hand, and he says: 'I got this, this, this and this.' And he looks big in my face says: 'You want 'em?' I jumped out of my skin, I said: 'Yeah! I'll take 'em!' Shoot yeah!' I didn't know how I was gonna' do it 'cause I was in the army band. I didn't know what to do."


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