Jazz Bassist Charles Fambrough Dies

Philadelphia-based acoustic bassist performed with McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey and Wynton Marsalis

Bassist Charles Fambrough died on January 1, 2011. He had been ill for last few years, battling end stage renal disease, congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. He had been receiving dialysis treatments as well. He was 60 years old at the time of his death.

Fambrough was born in Philadelphia on August 25, 1950. Originally trained on the piano, Fambrough received a scholarship to study classical music, but picked up the bass at age 13, eventually leaving school to pursue his true passion in jazz as a bassist. By 1968 he was performing professionally in various pit bands around the city.


Charles Fambrough

In 1970 Fambrough joined Grover Washington Jr.’s band with whom he played for over three years, while the saxophonist experienced his first commercial success. After a stint with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, he then joined the band of fellow Philadelphian McCoy Tyner, appearing on Tyner’s albums Focal Point, The Greeting, and Horizon. He later joined the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers in the early 80s, when that band featured Wynton and Branford Marsalis. When Wynton Marsalis left Blakey to record and tour as a leader, Fambrough was a part of his group, and was featured on Marsalis’ Fathers and Sons album for Columbia.

Fambrough also had considerable experience playing Latin jazz, as a sideman with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, as well as Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. Fambrough also regularly performed and recorded with pianist Bill O’Connell.

Fambrough recorded over six albums as a leader, including The Proper Angle and Blues at Bradleys for CTI, City Tribes on Evidence, Upright Citizen on NuGroove, and Live at Zanzibar Blue on Random Chance. He was a first-call bassist in his hometown for his entire life, backing artists such as Shirley Scott and Bootsie Barnes at local venues like Ortliebs, Zanzibar Blue and Chris’s Café.

He was an accomplished composer who wrote often complex and diverse songs for his own band as well as others. However, despite an emphasis on complex harmonies and rhythms, it was always important to him that the melody was there. In 1997 he told Kimberley Berry for All About Jazz: “I try to make a melody that you can sing, but once the melody is gone, you have to know what you're doing. If not, it's over. You can't "hear" it; you have to "know" it. There are musicians who have great ears who can hear anything, so it can be dealt with. There are certain things, it's better to know. That way you can elaborate.”

Bassist Gerald Veasley, who also played with both McCoy Tyner and Grover Washington, Jr., counted Fambrough as a mentor, and for a short time, as a neighbor in a small community in New Jersey. "Charles happened to be a neighbor of mine for about four years," said Veasley. "I was broke but ambitious. He was a force on the bass and very much in demand. Charles would invite me over his house from time to time to show me a song or concept he was working on. Even though most of the time it was over my head, I appreciated his taking me under his wing. Think about it: An established musician coaching a struggling one. What could be truer to the jazz tradition than that?"

Fambrough had a big robust sound on the acoustic bass and was well-respected by his peers and jazz fans. The Philadelphia jazz community had held a few fundraisers and celebrations for Fambrough including a recent one on December 8 at the Clef Club attended by Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Wallace Roney, Pat Martino, John Blake and Veasley among many others.


  • Jan 03, 2011 at 04:18PM Maria Fambrough

    We miss our Dad very very very very very much... I just wanted to clarify that my Dad was battling End Stage Renal Disease, Congestive Heart Failure and Pulmonary Hypertension. He passed of a massive heart attack here at home with our family... His legacy in the Jazz music industry will forever live on through his children, family, friends and fans. He has touched, inspired and mentored so many people, and will NEVER be forgotten...

    We love you Daddy.... R.I.P. 8/25/1950-1/1/2011
    -Maria Fambrough-Crook

  • Jan 03, 2011 at 04:22PM Lee Mergner

    Thank you for your comment and correction. We are sorry for your loss. If you want to post information about funeral arrangements, please do so.

  • Jan 03, 2011 at 04:49PM Maria Fambrough

    We are still working out the details, but will post the information as soon as possible. My mom would like to thank you for all the nice things you have written about our Dad. Please feel free to contact us anytime. Thank you again for everything..

  • Jan 04, 2011 at 10:19AM Freddie J. Cooper

    The music world has lost a true Master of the upright Bass.I lost a very dear friend and brother. Charles Fambrough was a true Artist.I met Charles when I was working in a music store in Philadelphia in the early 90's. I was playing a archtop guitar , and he walked up to me and commented me on my playing. We got into a conversation about Jazz and theory. I learned more from him in that one conversation than I learned in one semester of collage. Charles and I became best friends over the years. He exposed me to so many different styles of music and not just Jazz. I had the opportunity to play with Charles over the years and he introduced me to so many Jazz Icons and I've played on numerous concerts and sessions with Charles. Through Charles I had the chance to meet and play with Jon Lucien, Stanley Turrentine , Dave Valentin and many other Jazz artist I would have only dreamed of meeting let alone play with. I have had the honor to get to know and fall in love with his family. I'm known as Uncle Fred. A title I hold dear. He was a wonderful Husband & Father to his family and before he passed away he got the chance to see the love of his life his little grand daughter. This summer as he was in and out of the Hospital. His wife Deloris was dedicated to making sure any and everything coud be done to help Charles fight his illness. I've never seen such dedication and love from a family like I saw in Charles' and how they supported him to the end. The Jazz Community came and supported Charles and his family. He had the chance to see how much he was respected and loved. Words can't express how much he will be missed. He was the true Jazz Musician,but most of all a real friend.

  • Jan 07, 2011 at 09:55AM Lee Mergner

    The Jazz Bridge organization in Philadelphia provided this information:

    The funeral service will be this Tuesday, 1/11/2011, at 11:00 a.m. at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, 2010 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. Musical celebrations will follow at the Clef Club and Chris' Cafe. Many thanks to Ed Dennis, host of the jazz vespers at the church, for this information. Condolences can be sent to the Fambrough family at 917 N. 17th Street Allentown, PA 18104.

  • Jan 12, 2011 at 10:26AM Barbout

    To Family:

    So sorry to hear about your father! My dad was a jazz bassist also who had end stage renal disease so I truly know what you've been through! My thoughts are with you.

    Barbara O.

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