Remembering Charles Fambrough Pt 2
I just wanted to share a few of my favorite Fambrough stories:
My senior year at Muhlenberg I lived off campus in a split house, owned by Muhlenberg. The other side of the house was filled by football-Frat guy types who seemed to always be giving me dirty looks(I gave them mean looks right back). I did most of my practicing in the house(into the closet to muffle the sound) and they would routinely bang on the wall louder and louder. One time they even called campus police on me. I never complained about the noise from any of their parties.
One day Fambrough drove me home and they all happened to be sitting on the porch. Fambrough was a big guy, and to anyone that didn't know him, he was quite intimidating. He had a presence when he walked into a room. When these Frat guys saw me jump out of Fambrough's Ford Explorer they were silent. I said goodbye to him, thanked him for the ride and went inside. My Frat boy neighbors never bothered me again.
I was in an ensemble taught by Charles for 3 years at muhlenberg. The skill level of the members of the group varied, but we were all working hard and were serious about sounding good. One semester we were working on 'Mr. Clean' by Freddie Hubbard. We could all play the notes right, but 'real dirty funk' seemed like a difficult concept for a bunch of suburban white kids.
Fambrough finally explained it to us this way:
"Picture a beatiful beach in brazil. The sky is blue and water is clear. The breeze feels nice and the temperature is perfect. You're sitting in the sand and the world is what it should be. Then out of nowhere a big fat sloppy woman comes walking by. She's crammed into this ugly polka-dot moo moo, he feet are squeezed into shoes that are way to small. When she walks, you feel it in the ground. She's even wearing two slabs of beef as earrings. And she walks right by, she has a horrible attitude and ruins your whole day. Play that image"
After that we sounded much better.
'O Ye of Little Faith'
Occasionally Fambrough would play at Chris' Jazz Cafe, and my friends and I would drive down from Allentown and see the show. One time in my lesson Fambrough mentioned he was going to be playing some some guy named 'Arty Horrig' (Ari Hoenig). I told fambrough, 'This guy is pretty serious, he's always changing the tempo and feel, he can throw a lot of people off. Make sure you're prepared for that.' Fambrough gave me this 'O ye of little faith' look.
We went to the show and it was great. Ari was superimposing all sorts of different things over the time and Fambrough was right there with him. (for those that don't know Ari, he has a very unique technique and often makes ...unique facial expressions while playing). During the set break Fambrough came over to hang with us and said this:
"That Arty is alright(a big compliment coming from Fambrough). But he keeps making faces at me, so I gotta play with my eyes closed".
Fambrough was HILARIOUS!
The Nicest thing Fambrough ever said to me:
Fambrough wasn't the kind of man that would throw around compliments, so when he did give you one, it meant something. Mostly if I had played well, Fambrough would say, 'Keep working on it'(if I played poorly, he'd say nothing). He wasn't afraid to tell you where you were weak and what you needed work on. This sort of honesty is one reason we got along so well. After one of my last concerts at Muhlenberg, Fambrough said to me, "You know what Crowley? You're starting to not suck so much". Man! I was so happy to hear that, I was smiling all night!
During my senior week Fambrough called me up and asked me if I wanted to play a gig with him and the late Sid Simmons(who I had listened to for years) at a very nice theater event. I said 'yes' before he had even finished asking. These musicians were way out of my league and I took a musical asswhoopin' that night, but it was one of my favorite memories from Muhlenberg and I loved every second. In Jazz, playing with musicians that are better than you is how you get better, and it was a thrill to be on stage with these guys that night. Fambrough could have called someone else that was better than I was for that gig, but he called me. To me, this was his way of saying 'thanks' for all the hard work I had put in while studying with him. It's him that I owe many thanks too.