Drummer Joe Chambers' evolution from session player to band leader
Born 1942 in Stoneacre, Virgina, Joe Chambers’ earliest musical aspirations focused heavily on composing, even while learning to play drums.
Chambers attended the Philadelphia Conservatory for one year, but found quick success in New York City in the 1960s and '70s. He gigged with many high-profile artists including Eric Dolphy, Wayne Shorter, and Chick Corea.
Chambers played on dozens of the decade's most progressive albums, including trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s Breaking Point, an album that many consider essential for listeners of progressive jazz. Breaking Point contains Chambers' composition "Mirrors."
Unlike other drummers in the Blue Note stable, Chambers wasn’t flashy, but an eager and generous collaborator. After the success of Breaking Point, Chambers was in demand with fellow artists including vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Chambers appears on nine of Hutcherson's first ten albums.
On Hutcherson’s 1965 album Dialogue, Chambers played and contributed two compositions— the title track and "Idle While," a lyrical waltz. Many critics say this album stands head and shoulders above Hutcherson's other classic Blue Note dates, thanks to the unique compositions from Chambers.
After his final studio outing with Hutcherson, Chambers continued as a sideman, performing with Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach's touring and recording percussion workshop ensemble M'Boom.
He also collaborated with artists who continued to push the genre of jazz, like Joe Zawinul and the band Weather Report.
The '70s marked a new beginning for Chambers, releasing his first album as a leader, The Almoravid in 1973. His drums and the additional percussionists are in the forefront on this album, as demonstrated in the track "Gazelle Suite."
Chambers' experience performing with jazz greats has given him a wealth of knowledge that goes beyond the stage and recording studios. In 1990, he began a lengthy career as an educator— teaching at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, then moving on to the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
Chambers, like many jazz musicians, understands the importance of paying it back, while moving the genre of jazz forward.
Devoting his time to the studio as well as the classroom, Chambers returned to Blue Note in 2021 for his album, Samba de Maracatu. He played vibes, marimba, drums, and many Brazilian percussion instruments on this nine-track release, which showcases original compositions, standards, and pieces by Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, and former partner Bobby Hutcherson.
In February 2023, Blue Note released Chambers' Dance Kobina, which explores the deep musical connection between jazz, Latin, Brazilian, Argentinian, and African music.
From Blue Note session player in the '60s to Blue Note leader in 2021, the eager and generous collaborator Joe Chambers brings the flash and lays it all out on his albums leading the band.