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Paul Chambers

Paul Chambers Dear Old Stockholm Bass on Top 1957

Born in PittsburghPennsylvania on April 22, 1935, Chambers was raised inDetroit, Michigan following the death of his mother. He began playing music with several of his schoolmates; the baritone horn was his first instrument. 

Later he took up the tuba. "I got along pretty well, but it's quite a job to carry it around in those long parades, and I didn't like the instrument that much." Chambers became a string bassist around 1949. His formal bass training got going in earnest in 1952, when he began taking lessons with a bassist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Chambers did some classical work himself, with a group called the Detroit String Band that was, in effect, a rehearsal symphony orchestra. Studying at Cass Technical High School off and on from 1952 to 1955, he played in Cass' own symphony, and in various other student groups, one of which had him playingbaritone saxophone. By the time he left for New York at the invitation of tenor saxophonist Paul Quinichette, he had absorbed a working knowledge of many instruments.

Jazz bass players were largely limited to timekeeping with drums, until Duke Ellington's bassist Jimmy Blanton began a transformation in the instrument's role at the end of the 1930s. Chambers was about 15 when he started to listen to Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, his first jazz influences. Oscar Pettiford and Ray Brownwere the first bassists he admired, and these were followed by Percy HeathMilt Hinton and Wendell Marshall for their rhythm section work, and Charles Mingusand George Duvivier for their technical prowess and for their efforts in broadening the scope of jazz bass. Blanton was his all-time favorite. Playing his first gig at one of the little bars in the Hastings Street area, he was soon doing club jobs withThad JonesBarry Harris and others.

From 1954 on through 1955, he gained significance touring with such musicians asBennie Green, Quinichette, George WallingtonJ. J. Johnson and Kai Winding. In 1955 he joined the Miles Davis quintet, staying on with the group until 1963 and appearing on many classic albums, including Kind of Blue. One of Chambers's most noted performances was on that album's first track, "So What", which opens with a brief duet featuring Chambers and pianist Bill Evans. The sessions for Kind of Blue were difficult for all of the musicians, working to the peak of their musical abilities. Chambers' playing on Kind of Blue are considered some of the most patient and thought out bass lines in the history of jazz. From 1963 until 1968 Chambers played with the Wynton Kelly trio. He freelanced frequently as a sideman for other important names in jazz throughout his career. During the course of his lifetime Paul Chambers developed addictions to both alcohol and heroin. On January 4, 1969 he died of tuberculosis aged 33.

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