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Artist’s Choice: Barenaked Ladies’ Jim Creeggan on Paul Chambers

For our April 2022 bass issue, a tribute to the late great Mr. P.C. from a longtime fan

Paul Chambers 1957
Paul Chambers during the recording session for John Coltrane’s Blue Train, September 15, 1957 (photo: Francis Wolff © Blue Note Records)

My entry into Paul Chambers’ bass playing was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which I first heard when I was in high school. From there I went to the Miles Prestige records—Relaxin’, Cookin’, all that stuff. And then to all the offshoots: Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland. It was like a family tree, where you start at the root and just take off and find out all the other combos. What I noticed through this journey of exploring Paul’s music is that it’s really a story of his friendships. It became apparent how much he supported his band members, how much he allowed them to be themselves and be free.

I wanted to turn that into a guide to my own life: How can I be like Paul Chambers in my relationships? How can I be as compassionate to my wife as he was to his band members? Let’s get together, let’s really listen to each other, let’s support each other. So that’s where the song [“Paul Chambers,” written by Creeggan and appearing on Barenaked Ladies’ 2021 album Detour de Force] came from. There’s a real trust between these players, and it shows in the music.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring all of the songs in this Artist’s Choice:

Miles Davis
“Blue in Green”
(Kind of Blue; Columbia, 1959)
Paul gives so much space here. It’s like he’s telling Miles, “Yeah, I heard what you said,” and then he goes back with Bill Evans and plays those big long notes. Miles always makes me think of a cactus—prickly on the outside to protect the tender heart inside—and to me it’s no accident that he chose Paul Chambers to be in his band, because Paul has this compassion that lets Miles feel comfortable about showing a very vulnerable side of himself.

The Red Garland Trio
“Since I Fell for You”
(It’s a Blue World; Prestige, 1970)
It’s 13 minutes of three guys playing—Art Taylor is the drummer—and you don’t get tired for a second. What I love the most is when Chambers goes from this half-time feel mixed with these eighth-note triplet flourishes to double time and then back to half time again. Those choices are so seamless, and they’re one of the main ingredients that keep you holding your attention through the whole song.

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The Barry Harris Sextet
“Clockwise”
(Bull’s Eye!; Prestige, 1968)
Paul had studied with Barry years before, but as far as I can tell, this is the only time they played together on record. And not only is the student coming back to his teacher, he’s coming back at the end of his life—Paul died six months after the record was made. I just hear the love between them. Paul’s solo is an arco solo, and it has this light, feathery quality that’s new for him. It floats.

Roy Haynes
“Reflection”
(We Three; New Jazz, 1959)
This is Roy, Paul, and Phineas Newborn. I love the whole record, but this is the lead track and it really lays the groundwork. One thing that’s great about it is that everything here, from the album title to the cover photo, seems to be saying, “We’re not one player and a couple of sidemen. We want to be a band.” As a pop guy, I love that. They’re committed to each other, and you can hear it.

Paul Chambers Quartet
“Chasin’ the Bird”
(Bass on Top; Blue Note, 1957)
Kenny Burrell’s on this, and I’ve found that Kenny has an effect on people’s records similar to that of Paul Chambers: It’s almost like he makes people’s shoulders drop. The playing gets more relaxed, and the music seems to have more air to it. The track starts off in this fugue style between Paul and Kenny, which is beautiful. Then Paul plays a pizzicato solo that just keeps going—it’s a perpetual-motion machine.

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Paul Chambers Sextet
“Tale of the Fingers”
(Whims of Chambers; Blue Note, 1957)
This is the same kind of perpetual-motion thing, but arco instead of pizzicato. It’s a really throaty sound—I think the engineer must have placed the mic right where the hair meets the string—and it’s a nod to Jimmy Blanton and Slam Stewart, but it takes their use of the bow into a new world. Paul’s sticking up for the bow, saying it still belongs in the tradition. And if you listen closely, you can hear him singing for himself underneath this arco solo. The playing isn’t just in his fingers, it’s in his body.

John Coltrane
“Mr. P.C.”
(Giant Steps; Atlantic, 1960)
Coltrane’s pushing music forward, and Paul gets it. The locomotive has turned into a high-speed train, and the intention behind the rhythm is so clear. He’s just like, “I’m going to shoot this thing into the stratosphere because my buddy John Coltrane is leading the way, and I’m gonna be his wheels.” Making that record must have been a complete leap of faith, and Coltrane naming that song after Paul shows how grateful he was for what Paul was doing.

Ike Quebec
“Blue and Sentimental”
(Blue and Sentimental; Blue Note, 1961)
I only got introduced to Ike Quebec recently, and this song is just gorgeous. It’s Paul and Philly Joe Jones together again, and oh my god, the time feel is so open and moving at the same time. And you know, there’s Paul, right in the middle of it.

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[as told to Mac Randall]