Orrin Evans Remembers Charles Fambrough
The pianist on the bassist who died last New Year's Day
I was only 19, but somehow I was booking and managing a venue in Philadelphia called the Blue Moon Jazz Club. I showed up one night for a show featuring a bassist I knew very little about at the time. His name was Kevin Bruce Harris and I was really looking forward to checking him out. But as I walked in the door everyone looked frantic! Kevin wasn’t going to make it and the band (Uri Caine, Steve Wilson and Ralph Peterson) was working out a replacement to make sure the gig still happened. After the storm calmed and everybody was laughing and joking, I thought it was safe to open my mouth and be a manager.
“Excuse me, sir, who is coming to replace Kevin Bruce Harris this evening, so that I can post his name properly on the sign outside?”
“Who are you?” said Ralph Peterson.
“My name is Orrin Evans and ... ”
“Oh, I’ve heard of you. Can you make a gig next week with me and the bassist who you obviously don’t know?” Basically, I’d asked my question standing less than a foot away from Charles “Broski” Fambrough and didn’t know who he was.
The gig was amazing, and that night I also met Broski’s wife, Dolores, who supported him then and continues to support him now, even after he’s passed on. I did the trio gig the next week with Broski and Ralph with a small upright piano and no mics. Those cats learned me real good! Honestly, I kept my mouth shut most of the time when I was around Broski because I wanted and needed to learn. WRTI in Philly was playing his stuff around then and it became the soundtrack to my life. The Proper Angle and The Charmer were groundbreaking. As the years went on I didn’t hang with Broski that much because, honestly, I was scared to call him and he had a few pianists that he was using. But there were a few moments that I’ll never forget.
I was on the road with Miles Jaye and we were doing a double bill with George Howard. George had Broski on electric bass for a second, but on this tour it was Tarus Mateen. We came back home and played the Keswick Theatre and Broski came out to support George. The soundcheck was running behind schedule, so Broski said, “Yo, young buck, come out to my car and check some of my new stuff out.” He always had a project in the can and they were all great. We sat and listened to music for hours in his car. He played outtakes from Proper Angle and Charmer and promised that one day we would play together. Over the next few years we tried but things never lined up. We played once with Duane Eubanks, Rodney Green and JD Allen, and it was swinging so hard! I still have a DAT tape of that gig and listen to it every now and then.
In 2003 I received a call from Sean Jones to do his first record. The band featured the drum and bass duo from Roy Hargrove’s Diamond in the Rough—Ralph Peterson and Charles Fambrough—and little ole me! As we neared the end of the date I received a call that my father had passed away. I didn’t want to put a vibe on the date so I quietly went and finished the date without saying anything to anyone. When we played the last note I started to explain my call but I couldn’t get it out and just started crying. Charles held me and let me slobber on his arm for what felt like hours. He didn’t say much, but then again, he said all the right things. He called me for the next few weeks just to check on me and we again talked about playing together. When Broski became ill I talked to him about doing a benefit to help with medical bills. He called me to thank me, and said, “Come by the crib, young buck, and get some of these charts so y’all can play some of my tunes.”
I drove out to Broski’s house and kicked myself the whole way home for not going sooner. I thank God for the time I spent knowing Charles Fambrough, but I truly regret not Broski-ing my way into his life earlier.