Sunday, January 2, 2011

Remembering Charles Fambrough Pt 1

Charles and Me at my Graduation from Muhlenberg College

Blog # 66: Remembering Charles Fambrough Pt 1

I did my undergrad at Muhlenberg College in Allentown PA. It's a small liberal arts college with a pretty small music program, and while it had some great teachers, there weren't many dedicated music students there at that time. As I went through school there, it was kind of apparent that it would make more sense for me to transfer to a music school like Berklee or New School, but I stayed at Muhlenberg and graduated. The main reason I stayed was Charles Fambrough.

I studied with Charles for 3 years while at Muhlenberg (he started teaching there my sophomore year). We became close during those three years. Fambrough(which was what most of us called him) had many students at Muhlenberg, but I was definitely one of his most enthusiastic and it was because HIS enthusiasm was contagious. He would mention musicians I should check out and then I'd go buy some CDs and come back super excited. We spent most of our lessons talking about my jazz heros(who he actually knew, played and hung with). He had endless stories and I wanted to hear all of them.

Charles was teaching most of the jazz students at Muhlenberg, regardless of instrument(I think my forms said I was studying 'Trumpet' with him). Sadly, many of them weren't very committed, and didn't practice much. But Fambrough saw that I was really into jazz, practicing, music and so if he saw me in the hallway, he'd invite me in to hang out during other people's lessons. So at least two days a week I would spend my whole afternoon (4 hours!) with Fambrough, as his other students came and went. He'd work on stuff with them, while giving me stuff too. It was like having a 4 hour lesson twice a week and afterwards he'd drive me home too! Sometimes he'd ask me to go find some sheet music of tunes he wanted to play with our ensemble and I'd come drop it off and end up staying for a few more lessons until I'd have to say "Fambrough, I gotta leave! I'm going to be late for my Education Psychology class."

While we dealt with music theory and jazz harmony, most of our lessons were about the non-musical aspects of music. The Magic in music, for lack of a better explanation. He frequently talk about putting a 'vibe' on whatever song you were playing, bringing energy, and having passion in what you were doing. A lot of his explanations of tunes were describing a visual image and then playing that thing in musical form.

The thing that I am most thankful for from Fambrough is getting me REALLY excited about jazz. Hearing his stories and hanging out listening to CDs made me really want to move to New York and try to be a real jazz musician. I moved to NYC the fall after I graduated from Muhlenberg College, received an MA from NYU in Jazz performance a few years later, recorded a CD etc...

Charles, Thank you for everything you've done for me.

I miss you already



  1. Jon, What a great remembrance! Thanks for sharing. I am lucky to be close with my undergrad jazz teacher, George Rabbai. I couldn't imagine the world without him. I am sorry for your loss.


  2. Thanks Jon,

    Fambrough was a great friend and amazing musician. His passing is very sad, but thinking of all his stories and the time we spent together makes me smile. I feel very lucky for that. He will always have a special place in my heart.