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Dennis Chambers: The Return of Rhythm

The master drummer rebuilds and reignites

Mike Stern (l.) with Dennis Chambers (drums), saxophonist Bob Franceschini and bassist Richard Bona, c. 2002
John McLaughlin (l.) with Dennis Chambers in 2015
John McLaughlin (l.) with Dennis Chambers in 2015 (photo: Pepe Gomes)

A large nine-piece Pearl drum kit dominates Dennis Chambers’ living room. Its shells, from the giant protruding kick to the gong bass drum that looms over everything, consist of clear yellow plastic, a garish clash with the room’s tasteful white and earth-toned décor. Strewn about the gray couches and brown coffee tables nearby are snares, drumheads and cymbals, some still in their boxes. “I had a nice-looking living room at one time,” says Chambers, laughing in his home in the Baltimore suburbs. “Now there’s a bunch of drum gear in it!”

Chambers is one of the world’s greatest living drummers, renowned and sought after by musicians from all genres. Playing professionally from the age of 6, he joined Parliament-Funkadelic at 19 but jumped in the mid-1980s to John Scofield’s band. There he attracted the attention of the fusion world, and has since played with most of the genre’s biggest names, from John McLaughlin to George Duke to Stanley Clarke. But he has also logged touring and recording time with Sly Stone, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Sugar Hill Gang, Santana and Steely Dan. At the time of our interview, he’s just returned from a European tour with saxophonist Maceo Parker. “That’s one of the reasons why I don’t have my own band; I really enjoy playing all these different styles of music,” he says. Fusion, however, is his favorite.

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