, long a go-to San Francisco
Bay Area bassist, looked at death closely and decided it was not yet his time. In 2017 his medical chart revealed Stage IV prostate cancer, commonly and fearfully an endgame diagnosis. Prostate cancer affects African-American men with almost twice the frequency as other races, and is almost twice as likely to be fatal. Chambers had waited for two years with self-treatments before giving up, and booked himself into Tijuana, Mexico, at an "alternative" treatment center, Oasis of Hope, which uses methods not always available, or approved, for use in the United States.
He proclaims himself on the path of remission. Signs of illness which had appeared as black splotches on body scans are significantly reduced. Another scan in May was a further good progress report, followed by another course of booster treatment. He summarizes that he is still in a war, winning, but has not defeated his ailment.
Tijuana has about sixty cancer treatment centers with experimental and unorthodox methods, beyond the approval and regulation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the penalties for fraud or other medical harm available in U.S. courts. Some treatments are said to work; others are unsuccessful, and patients return home broke and bereft. Websites offer possibilities, critics denounce quackery; some pioneering treatments later have been adopted in the U.S. Treatments are expensive; Chambers has a GoFundMe site
to assist with his costs. But he is grateful to be playing again, an active schedule of dates around the Bay Area, hearty and invigorated.
The Passages of Masters
Now age 64, born in 1955, the years in which Chambers came up musically placed him at the close of one generation, playing with a founding father of bebop, Dizzy Gillespie
, and then those of later decades who subsequently passed on: saxophonists Frank Morgan
, Joe Henderson
, James Moody
, Hank Crawford
; pianists Tommy Flanagan
and Cedar Walton
; drummer Tony Williams
; trumpeters Don Cherry
and Freddie Hubbard
; vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson
. Other of Chambers' many collaborators are still with us: Kenny Burrell
, Benny Golson
, Teddy Edwards
, George Coleman
, Ahmad Jamal
, Pharoah Sanders
, Russell Malone
, Houston Person
, Curtis Fuller
Chambers played on the last concert date of Thelonious Monk
's saxophonist Charlie Rouse
in 1988, recorded as Epistrophy
on Landmark, seven weeks before Rouse would pass from lung cancer. He backed saxophonist Eddie Harris
in Munich in 1995 on Harris' last studio date, Dancing by a Rainbow
on Enja, before Harris would pass nineteen months later of bone cancer and kidney disease. Despite the illnesses of the headliners, these recordings show strong performances.
Nearness to a series of departures of masters from a certain golden era of jazz, one after another, brings a heightened awareness of life's transience. Chambers says most of those deceased performers never revealed the full extent of their illnesses, bringing as much energy and vitality to the end as best they could, rallying to perform even as they became otherwise diminished. What they shared, he recalls, was a commitment to the lineage, to the tradition, of the music as a living thing itself.
Chambers has long had that ethic. "Each time I picked up my instrument, I was confident that I gave my all, 110 per cent. If I can touch one person in the audience, I've done my job for the night." Similarly now, he says if he can save one life through cancer awareness, he's done that work for the evening as well. He has gone public with his own fight to raise awareness about the disease and the need for early testing and treatment. As with his music, as with the role of the human immune system, he wants to be "the messenger."
Chambers learned of his increased PSA levels in 2015 and monitored them thereafter, but through May to October in 2017 he experienced declining kidney function; a pain in his back in September 2017 and then kidney failure led to a cancer diagnosis that year. He was given weeks to live. In October 2017 he went to Tijuana, in a wheelchair, unable to walk. Within weeks, he was walking again. To supporters, and doubters about alternative treatments, Chambers says "Look at me," boldly but humbly.
The Oasis of Hope treatment for Chambers involves a three-week program of massive vitamin supplements, stimulation of the immune system, an alkaline-rich vegetable diet, raising core body temperature in a hyperbaric chamber, increasing blood oxygen including treatment of the patient's blood and re-infusing it into his bloodstream, and meditation and spiritual guidance.