Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rick Chamberlain (1952-2015)

There is a common denominator to the tributes that have poured in since the passing of Rick Chamberlain: Beyond his public face as a master trombonist, music teacher and jazz festival organizer, Rick gave selflessly to both those whom he loved and those he merely knew.
In my own case as jazz fan and journalist, Rick not only blew my socks off during many a Delaware Water Gap (Pa.) Celebration of the Arts performance and at the more intimate Deer Head Inn, he opened many doors for me when I set out to write a book about the life, times and unsolved 1981 murder of his dear friend, Eddie Joubert, the beloved owner of a Delaware Water Gap bar where Rick played as a member of the psychedelic-tinged rock band Asparagus Sunshine and sat in at after-hours jams.
From the Foreword to The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of  Love, Devotion and Cold-Blooded Murder:
"Back in the day, Eddie and two musicians -- trombonist Rick Chamberlain and alto saxophonist Phil Woods -- were known as the 'Unholy Three.'  They came up with the idea of the jazz festival as a way to raise money to fix the Gap's decrepit sewer system on a boozy night on the front porch of the Deer Head Inn jazz club in 1978.  Chamberlain, who Eddie later talked into successfully running for Gap village council, which in turn jumpstarted a lifelong dedication to community service, was eager to talk to me.
"That was such a formative part of our lives," is how Rick put it.
Long story short, some people were reluctant "to open their Eddie boxes and be interviewed" two decades after the murder, as I put it.  That was until word got around that Rick had talked to me -- several times, in fact.  This was a de facto seal of approval for my mission -- to remember Eddie and shame a Poconos law-enforcement that could care less about a heinous crime that had robbed the Gap of so special a man -- for the tight-knit jazz, arts and crafts and Vietnam veteran communities of which Eddie had been so supportive, and the book took off from there.  Five years on, it remains in print and sells steadily if not spectacularly.
Rick, who was 63, never made a big deal -- or any kind of deal, for that matter -- about all that he gave, and some of his more noble kindnesses and philanthropic gestures are know only to the recipients and a few others.
Rick finally succumbed to pancreatic cancer on March 27 at his Stroudsburg home with family and friends at his side.  A memorial service is being planned.
He was a fighter to the end, and while his illness prevented him from taking his chair as principal trombonist for the New York City Ballet Orchestra for the first time in many years for the ballet's annual holiday production of the The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, he continued to play, conduct and teach.
This included leading the Deer Head Inn Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece ensemble of COTA All Stars that will be playing on Monday night for the first time without the peerless Rick Chamberlain. 


Anonymous said...

Nicely done.

H said...

I don't think our paths crossed in our stay at the Deer Head, though he may have been there one night or the other (the house was full both nights), but I'd have liked to have met him. Sounds like a mighty stand-up guy who will be sorely missed in the community.

Bridget E. Kelly said...

A week before he died, he taught his great nephew to play the trombone. The Tuesday before he died, he taught his final lesson at Lafayette. Rick lived up until the minute he died.

J Waring said...

Terrible and very sad news. Rick, you'll be missed. Rick got me tickets to see Chuck Mangione back in the early 1980s when I was still in high school. My family loved him, and I recently was thinking of him and tried to get back in touch. God bless you Rick.