Chuck Bazemore, 1949–2022

Chuck Bazemore passed away on October 8. He was 73 years old.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Bazemore was a fixture in the city’s late-sixties / early-seventies soul scene. He excelled at playing the drums from an early age and was a member of the all-Philadelphia jazz band in high school. Upon graduation Chuck was invited to play with the Philadelphia Philharmonic. Instead, he hit the road as the drummer for the R&B vocal group the Delfonics, which was then riding high on the strength of its million-selling single “La-La (Means I Love You).” Bazemore subsequently toured with many of Philadelphia’s top vocal groups, including the Three Degrees, Patti LaBelle, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and the Tymes.

Though not a well-known name in Weather Report lore, Bazemore likely would have been the drummer on Tale Spinnin’ had a family tragedy not called him home. Since he neither recorded nor toured with Weather Report, his participation with the band has been something of a mystery over the years. Joe Zawinul referred obliquely to Chuck in a 1976 interview when he said, “With Tale Spinnin’ we didn’t have a band and we had to make a record, and we tried to get a band together, and we rehearsed all the music with the drummer, and by the time we came into the studio, the drummer freaked out, man. All of a sudden that pressure on him to follow our albums, like Mysterious Traveller, he just couldn’t handle it.”

There was a reason Bazemore “freaked out,” as Zawinul put it, which I discovered when I interviewed Chuck in 2017 for my book Elegant People: A History of the Band Weather Report. The following is our interview, lightly edited. I started off asking Bazemore how his involvement with Weather Report came about. (At the time, Weather Report had concluded its 1974 touring with drummer Darryl Brown and was preparing for its next album, Tale Spinnin’. Brown inquired about the future and was told that Joe and Wayne were going in a different direction and looking at “some studio drummers.”)

Chuck Bazemore: It all started when Alphonso Johnson gave me a call in Philadelphia. I went down to audition for Alphonso, and he called Weather Report and said, “We got a drummer.” That’s how we got started. So they flew me to California and I rehearsed with them for about three and a half months. We were working on an album, preparing to go into the studio.

Curt: Did you know Alphonso before this?

Chuck: Oh, yes I did. Me and Alphonso used to work together in Philadelphia. I can’t think of the name of the bands, but we knew one and other. Once you’re around Philly and you’re a good musician, everybody hears about you and everybody wants you. He knew later on that I went with the Delfonics, but I was still playing behind other people. I always liked jazz and fusion, but playing with the Delfonics and the other people I was working with—the R&B people and the blues people—was a different style. So Weather Report gave me time to stretch out—to lock in, but stretch out—to play my syncopated beats that I wanted to do, which was great. That’s how I got with them. I could improvise and I could also read music.

Curt: You were there in L.A. for three and a half months or three and a half weeks?

Chuck: It wasn’t three and a half weeks. I thought it was like three and a half months, but it could have been shorter.

Curt: Okay, so you were there for a while. Alphonso finding you must have been a relief to Alphonso. [laughs]

Chuck: Well, Alphonso really got most of the drummers there, like Chester Thompson—all the Philly guys, as a matter fact—Ishmael Wilburn and everybody else. All of us were well known in Philadelphia. Well known in California, too—not only just playing for Weather Report, but playing for everybody. I was a freelance drummer playing behind everybody. I wanted to play with Weather Report steady, but things happened with my family.

Curt: So what happened that you didn’t play on the album?

Chuck: While I was there, everything was great. Wayne Shorter and Joe, Alyrio Lima and myself, and Alphonso. Right before rehearsal we always sat down and talked around the table, had something to eat. That was great. This way you could feel one an- other and get the chemistry going. We studied our charts, studied the music, what we had to do. And they were trying to go into like a funk band. That’s why they called me. In Philadelphia I was known for my foot because I had a unique style. They called me “Heavy Sound” Chuck Bazemore.

So everything was going great, but as soon as I got into the recording studio, I got a call that my daughter had passed away. Her name was Casey Brooks. My thinking just went blank. Everything changed. After all that rehearsal I just couldn’t think. After Casey passed away, it took a hold on me. So I just flew back to Pennsylvania. I stayed in contact with the guys, just talking to them and everything, and said I would love to come back, but I just couldn’t do it.

Curt: That’s completely understandable. Did you go home immediately?

Chuck: No, I just felt like I had to go back home because all that rehearsing went right out the window. Once something like that happens, you can’t think right. I tried to finish the session but I was just thinking about my daughter who passed away. You know, if anybody goes through this, they know exactly what I’m talking about. After my daughter passed, everything went blank. I just freaked out and none of my recordings were released. They did everything with Ndugu Leon Chancler, which was good. I was happy for that.

In a subsequent telephone call, Chuck said that while he was in L.A., he got a call from Weather Report’s manager, Bob Devere, who told him that his pregnant wife was in the hospital. Bazemore flew back to Philadelphia excited, expecting to welcome a new daughter into the world. But there were complications with the delivery and Casey was stillborn. This version of events differs somewhat from his previous explanation, but I think they can be reconciled. Given this extra info, what likely happened is that Chuck was in L.A. for a period of time rehearsing material, returned to Philadelphia for the birth of his daughter, then came back to L.A. to do the recording sessions. However, upon his return he simply couldn’t concentrate given the gravity of what had happened, and wound up returning home without completing the recording.

Curt: The first time we talked, you said something about Joe telling you he wanted a funk style. What did he tell you?

Chuck: He was looking for a funk-style syncopated beat, and I was known for that. Not just playing a straight beat; like have a heavy foot and a lot of top, and working around everything. And Weather Report really helped me a lot, getting that way for jazz and fusion, because I was always a funk drummer. When I was with the Delfonics, I was like a “love” drummer. But I had different styles because my uncle was a jazz drummer and he taught me a lot. I didn’t play with a lot of jazz people until I got with Weather Report. I did some things with Pat Martino in Philadelphia, and that was good. And then I had an audition for Jean-Luc Ponty, but I didn’t take that because I wanted to stay with R&B.

Curt: When they called you out to L.A., was it your impression that you had the gig, that you were going to record the album and stay on and tour afterwards?

Chuck: Well, that was the intention, to go in the studio and record the album, and then go on tour. They were trying to go another route, to get the funk in, get that foot in. Because as you noticed from their past with other drummers, they had other drummers who they rehearsed with, but once when they go on tour, it’s not the same. A studio drummer and a touring drummer are different. A studio drummer will listen and lock in with everything. A tour drummer will do the same thing, but improvise. You’ve got to watch and listen because everything changes on stage and you can’t mess up. And that’s what happens with a lot of drummers. That’s why they had more than one drummer. They might have one drummer that can play, another drummer that can improvise and go around it. So they said, “Well, you know what, we need one drummer that can do everything.” I was both. I was a studio drummer and I was a funk drummer. Because I had a name out of Philly, everybody wanted me.

Curt: Did Joe give you a lot of direction in the sessions? He’s kind of notorious for being hard on drummers.

Chuck: Well, the main thing Joe said was, just listen. Because the music that we had, we went over and over and over, and everybody got it inside their heads. Sometimes you might improvise, throw something else in there, and you just listen and work around that, and eventually you’ll come back to where you want to be. Wayne would say, “Just go with the flow, like water.” He always said that. Now I understand exactly what he meant by that, but at the time he was saying it, nobody knew what he was talking about.

Curt: What do you think he meant?

Chuck: The flow of water. Like when the water flows, you just go with the flow of the water as he speaks. Like, you just blend in. Keep blending in and don’t leave. Don’t float under and just stay on top. [laughs] Whatever that means, only Wayne knows that. Wayne was like that. Really super nice guy, though. Really down to earth. You just got to be around him to understand him.

Curt: In terms of bringing the material to you guys, how developed was it? Or was it more or less developed on the spot in the studio.

Chuck: It was both ways, to tell you the truth. I know when I was with Alphonso, he was studying the music, and I would listen to the bass lines that he would play. And then when we went into the studio, I worked with that and listened to Joe to see what Joe’s playing, and listened to what Wayne Shorter’s playing, and then we all blended in. And Alyrio Lima just worked around everything with the percussion. Mostly, it was on the drummer. Everything was always on the drummer. That’s what Joe needed. He just wanted things to work around the drummer. That’s why he had so many drummers. Some worked out and some didn’t.

Curt: Did you ever play a gig with the band?

Chuck: No, it was only just rehearsing and going into the studio, just to have a funk album. Once I left Weather Report and went back down to Philly, I was playing behind everybody, but I was [playing] too busy because I was so used to working with Weather Report, playing different chops. Everybody loved it, but they said, “You’ve got to tone it down.” So I started working with a friend, Bennie Sims, who had a thing called the Jazz Experience. It was almost like Weather Report and the Yellowjackets. That was more my speed.

Curt: I understand your real name is John Bazemore. Where did the “Chuck” come from?

Chuck: My birth name is John Todd Bazemore, Jr. Chuck came from when I was little. I used to be fat, and everybody called me Chubby or Chucky. I grew up with that name and it stuck. No one from my family calls me John; everybody calls me Chuck and Uncle Chuck. When I go on Google, I can’t find my real name. Everything is under Chuck Bazemore, so I kept it. [laughs] Even the musicians, even my own family doesn’t know my name is John, because they’re used to calling me Chuck and Chuckie and Uncle Chuckie and Cousin Chuckie.

Chuck was always proud to be associated with Weather Report, as the accompanying photograph suggests. After his touring days ended, he remained in Philadelphia where he started a chimney sweep business while playing casual gigs on the side. Rest In Peace, Chuck Bazemore.

One thought on “Chuck Bazemore, 1949–2022

  1. John Miller

    R.I.P. Chuck – like so many people in music (and life), he was a part of history which doesn’t get heard about. A great shame that his personal tragedy stopped him playing with WR, but he had his priorities right.
    Many thanks for publishing this. He deserves to have his story told.

    Reply

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