Web Master: Visual Planets          Updated March 2012 by Dawn Mandle
  Photo by: Beverly Tharp  
  "Bassist Chuck Metcalf plays his instrument with the facility of a guitarist."  
  --Le Soleil, 5/9/80, Dakar, Senegal, Africa  
IN MEMORIAM: Charles [Chuck] A. Metcalf
January 8th 1931 - January 11th 2012
May You Rest In Peace Loved By Those You Touched

The following is a tribute from one of Chuck's closest friends:

I met Chuck at a session in 1983, and we worked together constantly after that until he left Seattle at the end of 1995. We stayed close right up through last month.

Chuck was a most generous spirit, certainly to me in a thousand ways, but I saw it all the time with others as well. He always went to everybody’s gigs, kept up with all the new cats in town, played sessions in his free time (not a lot of bass players, especially great ones, do this-think of how many times your sessions have died for lack of a bass player!), and in general was the kind of guy who maintained and created connections. A real community builder. And he supported all kinds of improvised music, including stuff that was controversial, cutting-edge, out of the box. He never sent out a dismissive or exclusionary vibe, except perhaps in the direction of the electric bass ("I don’t play guitar," I heard him say once to somebody who asked him to "bring his electric" to a gig). He heard what musicians could do rather than what they couldn’t do.

Also a magnificent tune-writer. We did two CD’s in the early 90's (Elsie Street and Help is Coming), and between them there were about 20 originals, almost all gems. It’s unfortunate that his stuff never made it to fake books. I think his best work, especially Elsie Street, Forget Me Not, and Old Fashioned Love, among others, belongs in the same company with classics by Monk, Wayne, Joe, you name it. I still play these tunes, and they stand up next to anything and everything. If anyone wants charts, I’m happy to share them. His very last tune, with the foreboding title "Endgame," needs to be played and heard.

Chuck was also a terrific writer, someone who couldn’t stop churning out words. This in fact was, at certain times over the past 30 years, as much the basis of our friendship as was music. He had his early book (late 70's?), written with Walt Tianen, exploring the analogy between chromatic theory in art and in music. The back cover to the Help Is Coming CD had a psychedelic representation of the idea. His explication in the book is very stimulating, and it’s a concept that deserves much more attention. More recently he produced a book with a title something like "Complete Chromatic Catalog," a music theory tome, which extended and applied some of the ideas from the first book. And then finally he finished, just weeks before he died, his "Jazz Harmony from the Bottom Up," which is an outstandingly clear and wise book on harmony for bass players. As with his tunes, these things have never been published, though I’m thinking of making a serious effort with that last book.

He didn’t confine himself, however, to writing about music. He was always sending me long essays on a variety of topics, most often what might be called "social engineering." He was fascinated by politics, on all levels from the politics of jazz to things on a national and international level. Several of his essays were on environmental and ecological issues. Truly a flexible and astute intellect. And the writing was elegant and thoughtful-he didn’t dash anything off.

For me and a number of other musicians of my generation, Chuck was a beacon. That’s what I want to be like when I get to that age: lively, outgoing, fearless, open-hearted, creative. I saw him go through some very rough times but he never lost his spirit and his focus and his productivity. He was amazingly resilient.

I am very thankful to have gotten a chance to know him, work with him, share musical space with him, help him in his times of need, and learn from him. Here in New York, at least in a very small circle, he will be mourned, celebrated, and missed.

Dan Greenblatt
New York, January 2012

  About Chuck Metcalf, Jazz Bassist  
  Bassist-composer Chuck Metcalf’s music-teacher parents started him on violin and piano in elementary school. To his mother’s dismay, by age 12 he was playing boogie-woogie instead of Mozart, so by age 15 was encouraged to take up the bass. That year the first bebop records--and Charlie Parker particularly--captured his soul. Moving from Pasadena to Seattle to live with his father that year, he played bass in high-school until going away to college at the University of Washington where he found a thriving, informal jazz scene. That led to his doing gigs in the many clubs of the time as detailed in Paul deBarros' "Jackson Street After Hours". There he met and/or played with future jazz stars such as Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Buddy Catlett, and Ray Charles.  
  During the 50’s Metcalf started a family and worked as an architect, but continued working as a bassist on weekends. Then in the 60’s he decided that his love of jazz trumped all other considerations and devoted himself to playing jazz bass full time, which he has done ever since. He toured with Anita O’Day, Joe Venuti, and others. Moving to San Francisco in 1972 he was active in the jazz scene there, and recorded on Mark Murphy’s "Stolen Moments" album before leaving for New York in 1979. While in New York he toured half of 1980 with Dexter Gordon. Returning to Seattle, he toured with Ernestine Anderson and Bert Wilson before going to Holland to immerse himself in the Dutch jazz scene. Returning to Seattle in 1985, he toured and recorded with Bert Wilson, toured with Jim Pepper, Frank Morgan, and his own quartet.  
  In 1989 Metcalf released his first CD on Dan Greenblatt’s Bopware label. Entitled "Elsie Street", it features George Cables on piano and Metcalf’s compositions. It was followed in 1991 by a piano-less octet recording, "Help Is Coming". Both CDs won the Earshot Jazz Best NW Recording award. Bert Wilson has produced several CDs on his FMO label that feature Metcalf’s playing.  

Returning to the Bay Area in the mid-90s, Metcalf once again found a receptive environment for his talents among the many world-class resident artists constituting the Bay Area jazz scene. In 2004, seeking to document a few more of his many compositions, he released a new CD, "Thinking of You", on Lyrichromatic Records.

In 2010 Metcalf moved to Santa Fe where he performed with pianist Jon Rangel, guitarist Pat Malone, drummer Peter Amahl, and saxophonists Doug Lawrence and Richie Cole. In 2011 he retired from public performance, but continued to teach and compose.

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