One of the first who springs to mind is double bassist Paul Chambers – who we felt deserves a little more attention than bass players usually receive…
Despite dying of tuberculosis at the age of just 33, the Paul Chambers discography stretches to more than 100 jazz albums and, for this article, we’ve picked 11 of the best records that he played bass on.
As always, there are loads of others we could have included. Let us know in the comments section below which you think should have made the cut…
Chet Baker in New York
Although Paul Chambers’ bass work was firmly rooted in the East Coast scene of bop and modal jazz for most of his career, he does appear on several of the great cool records of the day too. This is one example: joining Chet, Johnny Griffin & Al Haig alongside his longtime rhythm section colleague Philly Joe Jones.
Released: 1959 (Riverside) Line up: Chet Baker (trumpet), Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Al Haig (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums) Key Track: Solar
On the Spot!
Jaki Byard is both bandleader and part of the rhythm section as pianist for this Prestige session. He and Chambers are accompanied by Billy Higgins on drums.
Released: 1967 (Prestige) Line up: Jaki Byard (piano & alto saxophone), Jimmy Owens (trumpet), Paul Chambers (bass except track 4), Billy Higgins (drums, except track 4) Key Track: Olean Visit
John Coltrane brought in his Miles Davis bandmates Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones for this Blue Note Record – an outing firmly rooted in the hard bop style of the day.
Released: 1958 (Blue Note) Line up: John Coltrane (tenor sax), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Kenny Drew (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums) Key Track: Moment’s Notice
Everyone who’s ever studied jazz has grappled with the notorious cyclical chord changes from the title track on this album. It was, in fact, named after the bass line which Chambers had to deal with.
As Coltrane comments in the liner notes: “the bass line is kind of a loping one. It goes from minor thirds to fourths, kind of a lop-sided pattern in contrast to moving strictly in fourths or in half-steps.”Released: 1960 (Atlantic Records) Line up: John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Tommy Flanagan (piano, except Naima), Wynton Kelly (piano on Naima), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Taylor (drums) Key Track: Giant Steps
‘Round About Midnight
Miles’ first album for Columbia with his ‘first great quintet’ – a collaboration between Chambers and the jazz trumpet great that would last from 1955 until the end of 1962. Released: 1957 (Columbia) Line up: Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (double bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums) Key Track: ‘Round Midnight
Sketches of Spain
By far the largest ensemble line up on the list, this Miles Davis masterpiece mixes jazz, European classical music and world music.
Released: 1960 (Columbia)
Line up: Miles Davis (trumpet), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Elvin Jones & Jose Mangual (percussion) + Danny Bank (bass clarinet), Bill Barber & Jimmy McAllister (tuba), John Barrows, Earl Chapin, Joe Singer, Tony Miranda & James Buffington (French horn), Albert Block & Eddie Caine (flute), Johnny Coles, Taft Jordan, Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal & Bernie Glow (trumpets), Harold Feldman (clarinet), Dick Hixon & Frank Rehak (trombone), Jack Knitzer (bassoon), Romeo Penque (oboe), Janet Putnam (harp)
Key Track: Concierto de Aranjuez
Straight, No Chaser
Not to be confused with the Monk album of the same name (released a year later), this Joe Henderson record sees Chambers back in the studio with the classic Miles Davis rhythm section from Freddie Freeloader.
Released: 1968 (Verve)
Line up: Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums)
Key Track: Days of Wine & Roses
Released: 1960 (Blue Note) Line up: Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Blakey (drums) Key Track: This I Dig of You
Paul Chambers showcases his versatility by appearing on this brilliant record by cool school alto saxophonist Art Pepper.
Released: 1957 (Contemporary Records) Line up: Art Pepper (alto saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums) Key Track: You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
Renowned as the only recording of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane together.
Released: 1956 (Prestige) Line up: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), John Coltrane (on Tenor Madness only), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (double bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums) Key Track: Tenor Madness
Possibly the most famous jazz album of all time – and certainly a turning point in the birth of modal jazz – Chambers gets the record started with that now-famous bassline from So What. Released: 1959 (Columbia) Line up: Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Bill Evans (piano, except Freddie Freeloader), Wynton Kelly (piano, Freddie Freeloader), Paul Chambers (bass) and drummer Jimmy Cobb (drums) Key Track: So What
So that’s our album top picks from the legendary bassist Paul Chambers – I hope you enjoyed reading and listening as much as we enjoyed putting it together!
Of course, it’s by no means a comprehensive list and we’re open to amending it if anyone posts a super convincing argument in the comments section here as to which one should be added – and in place of what…
You probably noticed that many of his great albums featured John Coltrane on saxophone; you can check out our feature on Coltrane here.
And lastly, if you’re a jazz bass player and want to get deeper into the lines and solos of Paul Chambers, you can find some transcriptions in “The Bass Tradition by Todd Coolman” which we included in this list of best books to learn jazz & improvisation.