Chuck Israels

Chuck Israels

Musicians | Instrument: Bass, acoustic | Location: Portland

Israels’ charts are the heart of his band’s personality. It is definitely not a band that clubs you into submission. It is mellow, subtle, highly melodic, with lines that move in wondrous ways.
—Ira Gitler, DownBeat

Updated: May 26, 2022

Born: August 10, 1936

Bassist and composer, Chuck Israels was raised in a musical family. His step-father, Mordecai Bauman is a singer who performed extensively with composer Hanns Eisler and who, along with Chuck's mother, Irma Commanday, created a home environment in which music was a part of normal daily activity. Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and The Weavers were visitors to the Bauman home and the appearance of Louis Armstrong's All Stars in a concert series produced by his parents in 1948 gave Chuck his first opportunity to meet and hear jazz musicians.

Chuck studied the cello and played guitar in junior high school. Later musical training took place at Indian Hill, a summer workshop in the arts directed by his parents and at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. A year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology provided access to the considerable jazz activity in Boston where Herb Pomeroy, Charlie Mariano, Joe Gordon, Serge Chaloff and bassist John Neves were among the many musicians who lived and performed regularly in the area. Chuck took up the bass in order to fill out the M.I.T. orchestra and soon found a demand for his abilities in the Boston jazz scene. The year at M.I.T. convinced Chuck that a career in engineering was not for him and motivated a transfer to Brandeis University where he continued his studies in music.

While at Brandeis, Chuck played in a trio with pianist Steve Kuhn, who was then at Harvard and Arnold Wise, a drummer studying at the Massachusetts School of Art. A concert at Brandeis which involved the participation of jazz musicians Art Farmer, Jimmy Knepper, Barry Galbraith, Bill Evans, Joe Benjamin and composers Gunther Schuller, George Russell and Charles Mingus, presented Chuck with the opportunity to meet and perform with musicians who later provided entre into the New York jazz scene.

While still in college, Chuck performed with Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday and recorded with John Coltrane and Kenny Dorham. Parts of the summers were spent at the Lenox School of Jazz where The Modern Jazz Quartet, Jim Hall, Bob Brookmeyer, Gunther Schuller and others, made significant contributions to Chuck's education. Frequent trips to New York provided more opportunities to hear and play with well known musicians, and the virtuoso bassist, Oscar Pettiford, became a friend and mentor.

A year in Europe in 1959 found Chuck performing with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke and Lucky Thompson as well as with European musicians such as Martial Solal and Daniel Humair. Returning to New York, Chuck found work in George Russell's experimental sextet as well as occasional jobs with Gunther Schuller in which Eric Dolphy also participated. A short stint with a Benny Goodman band gave Chuck a chance to work with Zoot Sims.

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Last night was one of those occasions on which an audience’s concentration and approval is palpable well beyond its applause. We were feeling what the musicians felt in the profundity, beauty and joy of Evans’ music." —Doug Ramsey, artsJournalBlogs

"Israels’ charts are the heart of his band’s personality. It is definitely not a band that clubs you into submission. It is mellow, subtle, highly melodic, with lines that move in wondrous ways." —Ira Gitler, DownBeat

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