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Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers, Jr. (April 22, 1935 – January 4, 1969) was one of the most influential jazz bassist of the 20th century. A prominent figure in many rhythm sections during the 1950s and 1960s, his importance in the development of jazz bass can be measured not only by the length and breadth of his work in this short period but also his impeccable time, intonation, and virtuosic improvisations.


Born in Pittsburghmarker on April 22, 1935, Chambers was raised in Detroitmarker following the death of his mother. He began playing music with several of his schoolmates; the baritone horn was his first instrument. Later he took up the tuba. "I got along pretty well, but it's quite a job to carry it around in those long parades, and I didn't like the instrument that much." Chambers became a string bassist around 1949. His formal bass training got going in earnest in 1952, when he began taking lessons with a bassist in the Detroit Symphony. Chambers did some classical work himself, with a group called the Detroit String Band that was, in effect, a rehearsal symphony orchestra. Studying at Cass Tech. off and on from 1952 to 1955, he played in Cass' own symphony, and in various other student groups, one of which had him playing baritone saxophone. By the time he left for New York at the invitation of Paul Quinichette, he had absorbed a working knowledge of many instruments.

Jazz bass players were largely limited to timekeeping until, in the late 1930s, Duke Ellington's bassist Jimmy Blanton transformed the instrument's role. Chambers was about 15 when he started to listen to Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, his first jazz influences. Oscar Pettiford and Ray Brown were the first bassists he admired, and these were followed by Percy Heath, Milt Hinton and Wendell Marshall for their rhythm section work, and Charles Mingus and George Duvivier for their technical prowess and for their efforts in broadening the scope of jazz bass. Blanton, the perennial poll winner, was his all-time favorite. Playing his first gig at one of the little bars in the Hastings Street area, he was soon doing club jobs with Thad Jones, Barry Harris and others.

From 1954 on through 1955, he gained significance touring with such musicians as Bennie Green, Paul Quinichette, George Wallington, J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding. In 1955 he joined the Miles Davis quintet, staying on with the group until 1963 and appearing on many classic albums, including Kind of Blue. One of Chambers's most noted performances was on that album's first cut, "So What", which opens with a brief duet featuring Chambers and pianist Bill Evans. From 1963 until 1966 Chambers played with the Wynton Kelly trio. He freelanced frequently as a sideman for other important names in jazz throughout his career. During the course of his lifetime Paul Chambers developed addictions to both alcohol and heroin. On January 4, 1969 he died of tuberculosis at the premature age of 33.


Paul Chambers is a prominent entry in the list of bass players since Blanton who have contributed to extending the role of the instrument in jazz. Others include Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Ron Carter, Gary Peacock, Slam Stewart, Ray Brown, Red Mitchell, Stanley Clarke and Percy Heath.

His accompaniment and solos with Davis and other leaders remain distinctive and influential. He and Slam Stewart were among the first jazz bassists to perform arco or bowed features. From his role in the Davis band, Chambers was the bassist in two famed rhythm sections. The first, with Red Garland on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums, came to be known as "the rhythm section," that name featured on a celebrated album by saxophonist Art Pepper, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section. The second, with Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb, made many sessions as a unit, recording albums with John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, and by themselves under Kelly's name such as Kelly Blue.

Paul Chambers was in great demand as a session musician, and played on myriad albums during the period he was active including such landmarks as Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners, Coltrane's Giant Steps, and Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth. Many musicians wrote songs dedicated to Paul. Long-time fellow Davis bandmate, pianist Red Garland, wrote the tune "The P.C. Blues", and Coltrane's song "Mr. P.C." is named after Chambers. Tommy Flanagan wrote "Big Paul", which was performed on the John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell Prestige 1958 LP. Max Roach wrote a drum solo called "Five For Paul", on his 1977 "impossible to find" drum solo LP recorded in Japanmarker, and Sonny Rollins wrote "Paul's Pal" for him as well.


As a leader

As sideman

Cannonball Adderley

Nat Adderley

Toshiko Akiyoshi

Lorez Alexandria

Chet Baker

Tina Brooks

Kenny Burrell

Sonny Clark

Jimmy Cleveland

John Coltrane

Miles Davis

Kenny Dorham

Kenny Drew

Bill Evans

Gil Evans

Curtis Fuller

Red Garland

Grant Green

Herbie Hancock

Barry Harris

Dexter Gordon

Benny Golson

Johnny Griffin

Joe Henderson

Freddie Hubbard Milt "Bags" Jackson

John Jenkins
  • John Jenkins With Kenny Burrell (Blue Note, 1957)

J. J. Johnson

Philly Joe Jones

Wynton Kelly

Abbey Lincoln

Jackie McLean

Blue Mitchell

Hank Mobley

Thelonious Monk

Lee Morgan

Wes Montgomery

Oliver Nelson

Phineas Newborn, Jr.

Art Pepper

Bud Powell

Ike Quebec

Sonny Red

Freddie Redd

Sonny Rollins

Louis Smith

Frank Strozier

Art Taylor

Clark Terry

Kai Winding


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