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Chambers, Paul (Laurence Dunbar Jr.)

Chambers, Paul (Laurence Dunbar Jr.)

Chambers, Paul (Laurence Dunbar Jr.), noted jazz bassist; b. Pittsburgh, Pa., April 22, 1935; d. N.Y., Jan. 4, 1969. Dunbar studied baritone horn and tuba in his preteen years; at age 13, his family moved to Detroit and he took up the bass. In 1954 he did his first professional work on the road with Paul Quinichette, ending up in N.Y. In 1955 he joined Miles Davis’s working groups, remaining with Davis through 1963. He appeared on many of Davis’s classic recordings of this period. At the same time, he was virtually house bassist for the Prestige label, often working with pianist Red Garland on dozens of sessions. He also recorded as a member of Garland’s trio from 1955 to 1959. After leaving Davis, Chambers formed a cooperative trio with Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb. This group appeared frequently with Wes Montgomery in the mid-1960s and recorded with him as well as Kenny Burrell. He contracted tuberculosis in 1968, and sucumbed to the disease early the following year.

In November 1961 John Coltrane said, “A bassist of the stature of Paul Chambers is difficult to find in N.Y., because he creates a fusion: he listens to the piano and the drums, and all his work consists of improvising in relation to those instruments. His melodic line is a sort of result of the melodic lines of the two other musicians/’ In the process, Chambers did more than just keep a solid walking line; he created some original effects. This can be heard on his triplets behind Col-trane’s last chorus on “Blue Train” his fills and ostinatos on “My Funny Valentine” (live with Davis, September 1958), his beautiful and distinctive work on “Invitation,” and his pedal points on “So What.” He was also known for his fleet bowed work. Coltrane named “Mr. P.C.” for him. As an accompanist, his accurate and buoyant swing is often noted, but he also creatively broke up the beat on occasion.


Chambers’ Music (1955); High Step (1955); Whims of Chambers (1956); Bass on Top (1957); East/West Controversy (1957); Paul Chambers Quintet (1957); Ease It (1959); Go (1959); Just Friends (1959); 1st Bassman (1960); Paul Chambers Stars (1960).


Paul Chambers Quintet (1957).


J. Stinnett, The Music of Paul Chambers (1983).

—Lewis Porter

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