Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Israels, Chuck, composer, arranger, bassist; b. New York, 10 October 1936. He was raised in a musical family in Greenwich Village. His step-father, Mordecai Bauman (b. March 2, 1912) is a baritone singer who worked extensively with composer Hanns Eisler, was the first to record the songs of Charles Ives, and who, along with Chuck's mother, Irma Commanday, created a home environment in which music was a part of normal daily activity. In fact Mordy and Irma met in 1941 singing together in the Benjamin Britten/W.H. Auden opera, Paul Bunyan. Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and The Weavers were visitors to the Bauman home and the appearance of Louis Armstrong's All Stars in a concert series produced by his parents in 1948 gave Chuck his first opportunity to meet and hear jazz musicians. He also has a sister, Elisabeth Israels-Perry. His siblings and stepsiblings include Chana Commanday, Ramah Commanday, Allen Bauman, Irma Bauman, Jeffrey Bauman, Joshua Bauman, and Marc Bauman.
In the late 1940s Bauman was hired to head the opera department at the Cleveland Institute of Music. While in Cleveland, Chuck studied the cello and played guitar in junior high school. Further musical training took place at Indian Hill, a summer workshop in the arts directed by his parents at Stockbridge, MA (it operated from 1952-1976). He and his sister attended during the summers of 52-54. (He returned to teach at Indian Hill in the summers of '58 '60; '63, '65, '67, '68.) He attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. A year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology provided access to the considerable jazz activity in Boston where Herb Pomeroy, Charlie Mariano, Joe Gordon, Serge Chaloff and bassist John Neves were among the many musicians who lived and performed regularly in the area. Chuck took up the bass in order to fill out the M.I.T. orchestra and soon found a demand for his abilities in the Boston jazz scene. The year at M.I.T. convinced Chuck that a career in engineering was not for him and motivated a transfer to Brandeis University where he continued his studies in music.
While at Brandeis, Chuck played in a trio with pianist Steve Kuhn, who was then at Harvard and Arnold Wise, a drummer studying at the Massachusetts School of Art. A concert at Brandeis which involved the participation of jazz musicians Art Farmer, Jimmy Knepper, Barry Galbraith, Bill Evans, Joe Benjamin and composers Gunther Schuller, George Russell and Charles Mingus, presented Chuck with the opportunity to meet and perform with musicians who later provided entre into the New York jazz scene. While still in college, Chuck performed with Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday and recorded with John Coltrane and Kenny Dorham. Parts of the summers were spent at the Lenox School of Jazz where The Modern Jazz Quartet, Jim Hall, Bob Brookmeyer, Gunther Schuller and others, made significant contributions to Chuck's education. Frequent trips to New York provided more opportunities to hear and play with well-known musicians, and the virtuoso bassist, Oscar Pettiford, became a friend and mentor. A year in Europe in 1959 found Chuck performing with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke and Lucky Thompson as well as with European musicians such as Martial Solal and Daniel Humair.
Returning to New York, Chuck found work in George Russell's experimental sextet as well as occasional jobs with Gunther Schuller in which Eric Dolphy also participated. A short stint with a Benny Goodman band gave Chuck a chance to work with Zoot Sims. In 1961, on returning from another European tour which involved a recording with Eric Dolphy, Chuck was asked to join the Bill Evans Trio, filling in the role vacated by the tragic accidental death of bassist Scott Lafaro. The next five years proved fruitful to Chuck's musical development and a strong relationship was built within the trio. Drummers Paul Motian and Larry Bunker were creative partners and an interactive ensemble style, already started by a number of the New York rhythm section players of that time, was further developed. More opportunities presented themselves to perform and record with J. J. Johnson, Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock, Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Sonny Clarke, Bobby Timmons and Roland Hanna, among others.
In 1966 it became clear that knowing only the bassist's role in the music was insufficient. That meant leaving the Evans trio and not touring in order to study composition and arranging with Hall Overton. Chuck found work in the studios and theaters in New York, eventually becoming the conductor of a Broadway show. Frustration with commercial music and diminishing opportunities to perform at the creative level set by the Bill Evans Trio, led to two decisions that set the pattern for the next period of Chuck's work. Teaching music at the university level provided a way to make a living while maintaining the necessary freedom to pursue creative activity, and the creation of a jazz repertory orchestra in 1973 provided the specific outlet for that activity for the next few years. The process of transcribing classic Ellington charts for the National Jazz Ensemble had a profound effect, and durable relationships grew among many musicians involved in that activity. The ensemble performed classic jazz compositions and new pieces commissioned especially for it, written by Chuck and other jazz composers like David Berger. David, the National Jazz Ensemble's assistant director, continues to do similar work and has found more support and a wider audience as a result of his subsequent association with Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis. (The recordings made by the National Jazz ensemble during that period have been released on CD by Chiaroscuro Records.)
The Ensemble disbanded in 1981 and a move to California that year was prompted by a job with the San Francisco Opera Company for Chuck's wife, soprano Margot Hanson. Most of the time in the Bay Area was spent writing arrangements and compositions for big bands and for a nine-piece group. This repertoire, along with some compositions for smaller ensembles forms the basis for the music that Chuck Israels is now performing.
In 1986, Chuck moved to Bellingham, WA to assume the position he now holds as Director of Jazz Studies at Western Washington University. He continues to write, and perform, as opportunities present themselves. There are performances with Barry Harris, in New York, Europe and Japan as well as composing/conducting engagements with various European Jazz Orchestras. A concert/recording took place in Holland of Chuck's music with the Metropole Orchestra in April, 1996, under Chuck's direction. Activities during the last two years have included more performances and recordings with Barry Harris, performances at the Michigan State University Jazz Spectacular with Rodney Whitaker and members of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the CD release of the orchestral material recorded earlier by the NDR and the Hannover Radio Philharmonic on Mood Records.
Chuck is a guest composer/director with various European jazz ensembles and orchestras as well as a frequent performer with the Barry Harris Trio.
The Eindhoven Concert (1996); The Bellingham Sessions, Volumes I and II
As sideperson (selected):
John Coltrane: Coltrane Time; Herbie Hancock: My Point of View; Stan Getz: Getz au Go-Go; Bill Evans Trio: The Town Hall Concert, The Second Trio, Trio '65, Live at the Trident, Time Remembered, Live at Shelley's Manne Hole.
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