Academic journal article Notes

Mr. P. C.: The Life and Music of Paul Chambers/Wail: The Life of Bud Powell

Academic journal article Notes

Mr. P. C.: The Life and Music of Paul Chambers/Wail: The Life of Bud Powell

Article excerpt

Mr. P. C.: The Life and Music of Paul Chambers/Wail: The Life of Bud Powell

JAZZ Mr. P. C.: The Life and Music of Paul Chambers. By Rob Palmer. (Popular Music History.) Sheffield, Eng.: Equinox, 2012. [x, 430 p. ISBN 9781845536367. $49.95.] Illustrations, bibliography, discography, index.

Wail: The Life of Bud Powell. By Peter Pullman. New York: Peter Pullman, 2012. [vii, 476 p. ISBN 9780985141813 (paperback), $28; (e-book), $9.99.] Illustrations, appendix, bibliography, index.

Paul Chambers was the most in-demand bass player in modern jazz from the mid1950s into the mid-1960s. He recorded more than 300 albums and played with almost every great modern jazz instrumentalist who was active at that time. This includes historic recordings with trumpeter Miles Davis, such as Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, and Porgy and Bess. He performed on the monumental John Coltrane saxophone album Giant Steps. Chambers was one-third of the celebrated group of accompanists that Davis put together for a very important period in his career. Chambers was so accomplished by the time he was invited to join Davis that it may be difficult to believe he was only twenty years old during their first gigs. The combination of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones was so respected that when saxophonist Art Pepper had a record date with them they were admiringly termed "The Rhythm Section." Not only was the bassist a propulsive force for timekeeping, swinging, and feeding the most desirable tones into the harmonic mix of any band's accompaniment, but he also devised a pizzicato solo style in which he could invent melodic lines within the bebop idiom and sound almost like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, but in the bass register. In addition, he mastered jazz improvisation with the bow. His arco solos were well-conceived jazz improvisations that stood as a pinnacle to which other bassists aspired.

Fellow bassist Rob Palmer has taken Chambers as a primary subject for his book and treated us to an exhaustive account of the great bassist's life and music. Palmer gives us insightful reviews of the sounds made in many record dates in which Chambers participated. As a jazz musician, the author is able to provide his readers with technical accounts of the music on these recordings, not just the subjective impressions that could come from a typical jazz journalist. His work also sports a huge discography, which by itself is worth the price of the book.

In describing the formative years of his subject's career, Palmer provides an informative portrait of the flourishing jazz scene in Detroit during the 1940s and 1950s. This city was important at that time for its extraordinarily talented bebop-style musicians, including Chambers. Standouts include bassists Doug Watkins and Ron Carter, trumpeters Donald Byrd and Thad Jones, pianists Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Roland Hanna, and Barry Harris, saxophonists Yusef Lateef, Billy Mitchell, Frank Foster, Charles McPherson, and Pepper Adams, drummers Elvin Jones, Louis Hayes, and Roy Brooks, guitarist Kenny Burrell, and trombonist Curtis Fuller. After they moved to New York, this collection of musicians was so significant that it was termed "The Detroit School." They became among the top players in New York, and several of them participated in albums that Palmer describes in this book.

The bulk of the book consists of record reviews in which the author tells us what is happening in the music, track by track. He also tells us what is musically not happening but should have happened, thereby evaluating the success or failure of the musicians' strivings as he hears them. Palmer explains the song forms and their derivations. He also tells us what led up to each recording session, who came to it, how he was selected, who missed the date and was replaced, and why. Club dates and concert performances are chronicled, especially as they led up to the recordings that are discussed. …

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