Tag Archives: Paul Chambers

Bass On Top- Paul Chambers

Bass On Top 2

‘Play the one with the man on the cello’ is a frequent request in my home. No matter how many times I answer by saying ‘Not again! And it’s a double bass ffs!’ Bass On Top remains number one choice when something that isn’t too strident is called for. Time to take a look at this wonderful album and if you read to the end there’s a tale of crime involving a sculpture of a beautiful German woman.

The great double bassist, Paul Chambers recorded this album on July 14 1957. It was his fourth set as a leader and the third to be released on Blue Note. A member of Miles Davis’s first great quintet/sextet, Paul Chambers drew on early classical training in Detroit and became one of the first jazz bassists to play bowed (arco) sections live and on recordings. He featured on numerous key sessions with a pantheon of modern jazz greats (over 300 sessions between 1955 and 1962), including contributions to Monk’s Brilliant Corners, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues And The Abstract Truth, Coltrane’s Blue Train, Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ and Art Pepper Meets The Rhythmn Section and of course Miles Davis. There were fourteen releases of sessions led by John Coltrane and seven led by Hank Mobley. Indeed, his work on Kind Of Blue has been praised as one of the great jazz bass performances by some people who like to quantify things like that.

The opening track here, Yesterdays, opens with three choruses that strike a subdued tone of wistfulness, or saudade as the Potuguese would say, before the tempo changes (and if I’m not mistaken, which is very likely, the key moves from minor to major). The bow is used throughout. Blue without being a blues track, Yesterday’s is a unique and much covered jazz composition both by instrumentalists and vocalists. The full lyrics are here– but these will suffice now:

Then gay youth was mine, truth was mine
Joyous free in flame and life
Then sooth was mine
Sad am I, glad am I
For today I’m dreamin’ of yesterdays.

The sense of saudade in a nutshell!

You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To follows. It is a jaunty Cole Porter number played finger-style this time (pizzicato). There is lots of space for PC to develop solo ideas as Kenny Burrell reverses conventional roles to keep time on rhythm guitar before getting his own Hot Clubesque solo as PC walks the tune towards a tasteful contribution from Hank Jones on piano.

Chasin’ the Bird by Charlie Parker offers up a neat intro on the tune’s head from Kenny Burrell (not that we’d expect anything less) before PC gets to work again. His bass solo is fluent and creative with the second solo from Jones’ piano providing another perfect element here. Burrell gets a solo too before sticksmanship from Art Taylor and a re-statement of the head, which brings this fine rendition to a close.

Dear Old Stockholm flows down deliciously in a well-ordered mainstream sort of way that is very satisfying. This is the selection from YouTube that I’ve chosen to accompany this post:

To play either touch or click on the arrow.

PC then plays Miles Davis’ The Theme. He was on the original recording in 1955 and this bebop workout sees his bow produced and used to great effect again.

Finally on the original release, Confessin’ is a lively tour de force take on the much covered standard with PC’s bass to the fore delivering a compelling interpretation until Hank Jones has a brief solo.

My copy of Bass On Top is the RVG CD version as the original Blue Note vinyl pressing is a rare find and priced well beyond what I can afford. The RVG edition has its bonuses though. Chamber Mates was not on the original release but it is an uptempo number that sounds like great fun, especially for jazz dancers. There are the usual excellent additional notes from Bob Blumenthal and three Francis Wolff photos from the hallowed Mosaic Collection. These were taken at the actual session and one of them, copied below, prompted me to undertake some additional research.

PC Bass Head 2

You will note that a youthful Paul Chambers (amazingly only 22 years old when the session was recorded) is playing, supervised by the sculpture of a female face on the bass head, which is as remarkable as it is unusual. I’d never seen its like before, although the power of the Internet soon introduced me to a wide range of ornate bass heads and the following:-

“Well, in growing up in New York with Bass in hand in the mid-late 60s, I just missed Paul Chambers. He died about when I joined the Union. I did however see his Bass in pictures and asked one Luthier about that carved Ladies Head on the top of the Neck/Scroll. The Bass was a Germanic Shop type Bass from the late 19th-early 20th century or so. The Head was added by him I heard but in either case, it was not part of that Bass.” (Ken Smith- see here)

There’s another story about the bass with the woman’s head possibly, apocryphal, but well worth the telling. It is said that the maestro and Doug Watkins, another great bass player and close friend (and some say, cousin) of PC were on tour in Italy in the 60’s when they saw the bass, unattended in a car belonging to a member of a classical orchestra. They helped themselves to it and subsequently shared the instrument back in the States. Then, one dark and stormy night, as they usually are in the best tales, the original owner of the bass walked into the club where PC was playing it. What happened next… …Well, he listened and listened some more before confronting PC at the interval, when he told him that he’d never heard the instrument sound so great and that he would like to give it to PC with his blessing. As somebody famous once wrote ‘The bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar.’

Now I don’t know it this is true, or not. If it isn’t, I hope that the spirits or descendants of PC and Doug Watkins will not be offended by my repetition of scurrilous tittle-tattle. In any event it’s a story too good to miss. Who knows, the bass with the woman’s head may still be out there and one dear reader may actually be its custodian as I type this? If you have it, please let us know, we’d love to hear. Was the mysterious woman ever given a name? Someone may still know. Unless I hear differently, for personal reasons, I’ll settle for Gwladys.

Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging is that it is a bit dull to just trot out my impressions of albums. I like to add a bit of extra information that’s a bit harder to find for the reader and sometimes sourcing anything new is a bit of a struggle. Hopefully, my musings about PC and Bass On Top have achieved that this time round.

If you are interested in an analysis of Paul Chambers bass style, there’s a very fine essay written by Brian Casey, which you can read here.

The band etc: Paul Chambers (double bass);Kenny Burrell guitar); Hank Jones (piano); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 14 July 1957. Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 1569 in 1957.

RIP Paul Chambers, Jr (April 22, 1935 – January 4, 1969).

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Roll Call: Hank Mobley

Hank Mobley Roll Call

Looking back over the postings here at downwithit.info, I’ve yet to take a look at a Hank Mobley set, although he is well represented in my collection.

I won’t hear a word against Mobley, though many have uttered them and Roll Call from 1961, was his 15th release as a leader (and his 11th on Blue Note). He is in in great company here with 23 year old Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and the crack rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Art Blakey.

The title track is also the opener and Blakey gets things underway with a drum roll before the band deliver Roll Call as a competent hard bopper. Freddie Hubbard shows that he has his own trumpet voice and plenty of ideas in his solo. My Groove Your Move is slightly slower, a mid-paced vehicle for a delightful Hank Mobley solo, followed by subtle piano and bass contributions from Kelly and Mr PC.

Take Your Pick is a pacey 60’s New York swinger on which nobody puts a foot wrong.

A Baptist Beat is my favourite on this set. Harking back to gospel and the blues, it’s a fine composition, which you can listen to and enjoy on YouTube.

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

The RVG Edition CD has the bonus of an alternative take.

The More I See You is the only composition on Roll Call not written by Hank Mobley. Originally written by the prolific Harry Warren it gets played straight in a cocktail bar style here. Manhattans (using your best Tennessee whiskey) all round please! A bit of a filler.

The Breakdown, another enjoyable hard bop blow along, with some mighty, muscular trading of fours between Art Blakey and the rest of the band closes the set.

Sitting in his catalogue between the might of 1960’s Soul Station and 1961’s Workout, Roll Call won’t disappoint, especially if, like me, you enjoy the soul-jazz flavour of A Baptist Beat.

London Jazz Collector has looked at Roll Call, and, as ever, has an interesting comment on this set here.

The band etc:- Hank Mobley (tenor sax); Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Wynton Kelly (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Art Blakey (drums).  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded 13 November 1960. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Francis Wolff.  Originally issued as Blue Note BLP 4058

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Blue Train: John Coltrane

It is the first day of 2014 and time to tackle one of the big beasts of the jazz jungle. Blue Train was John Coltrane’s second session as a leader and his sole Blue Note set in that role. It is nothing less than one of the great jazz albums that everybody should know about and own, if possible.

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Recorded on 15 September 1957, Coltrane assembled a crack squad sextet at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, New Jersey studio to lay down 5 tunes on tape.

However this was a session that nearly didn’t happen, partly due to the less than timely intervention of a cat. Richard Cook in his excellent book ‘Blue Note Records’ recounts how John Coltrane, keen to improve his understanding of soprano sax, dropped by early evening at the Blue Note Records office. He wanted to borrow some Sidney Bechet records to learn what he could from them. Although between record deals at the time, he was regarded as a hot property on the scene. Francis Wolff, who took care of contractual arrangements at Blue Note had already gone home but his partner, Al Lion sensed that he could possibly make an offer to JC and he proposed a small advance to make one record, which was accepted.

Just as matters were about to be formalised, the Blue Note office cat (name unknown here) jumped out of the window and onto the street. Lion rushed to the window where he saw a woman trying to entice the puss into a cab. He dashed out and recovered the feisty feline but on returning found that John Coltrane had gone. The putative agreement was verbal and shortly afterwards JC signed a deal with Prestige Records.

However, Coltrane’s legendary integrity was to the fore and having given his word to record a session, he duly delivered…and what a package Blue Train turned out to be.

The title track runs for close to 11 minutes and is a wonderful strolling blues. Some listeners consider it to be eerie and sombre but I just don’t hear that. I just hear a piece of musical near perfection with solo following solo seamlessly. It is reproduced here from YouTube courtesy of everythingchangesmoi

To listen to Blue Train, touch or click on the arrow in the centre of the picture and enjoy.

The band really perform. While John Coltrane is on great form, trombonist Curtis Fuller makes a massive contribution to the overall ambiance. Meanwhile, Lee Morgan, on trumpet and although only 18 years old had already released 5 Blue Note albums as leader. Moments Notice and Locomotion are lively hard bop numbers which drive forward and each offer a great platform for the soloists. throughout the set the rhythm section of ‘Philly’ Joe Jones, Kenny Drew and Paul Chambers are impeccable.

I’m Old Fashioned is the sole standard played on the session. It is a Mercer/Kern song which was used to provide a vehicle for a song and dance routing featuring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in a now little-known 1942 film ‘You Were Never Lovelier’. The closer, Lazy Bird is a light, bright hard bopper. Job done.

The band etc:- John Coltrane (tenor sax); Curtis Fuller (trombone); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Kenny Drew (piano); Paul Chambers (bass);’Philly’ Joe Jones (drums). Recorded 15 September 1957. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey. Produced: Rudy Van Gelder Studio. Sleeve Notes: Robert Levin. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 1577.

As the photo shows, my main copy is nothing special. It is the CD and not even the RVG remaster or one with extra alternate versions of Blue Train and Lazy Bird (which are quite listenable as alternate takes go). However, it is much loved and if you haven’t yet got it, I urge you to purchase and learn to love it too. Update: In February 2015 I bought the splendid MusicMatters 33 1/3 rpm mono vinyl reissue for those times when I want to listen to this great album at its best.

Happy New Year

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