Jazz Institute of Chicago

Charles 'Truck' Parham

At the 1988 Chicago Jazz Festival. (Photo copyright ©2000 by Mark Ladenson.)
Truck at right with Roy Eldridge's band.

Charles 'Truck' Parham
by Jim Beebe

'Truck' Parham called me recently to tell me that WGN-TV was running a piece on him that night on their news show. I'm very glad that he did call as it was an excellent piece. Well deserved. WGN did about 15 minutes on Truck with nice interviews, pictures with Art Tatum, Pearl Bailey etc. and shots of him with Franz Jackson at Joe's Bebop Cafe.

88 years old, I couldn't believe it. Truck has forever seemed somewhere in his 50s to me and I have known him since about 1959–60. I came to Chicago in my youth with Bob Scobey's band and I was already a fan of Truck. I was in college and I had fallen under the spell of Muggsy Spanier's great band which had Darnell Howard, Floyd Bean, Ralph Hutchinson, Barrett Deems and Truck Parham. This band swung its ass off sparked by Muggsy's driving horn and driven along by Deem's and Truck's irresistible beat.

The Korean war came along and I found myself in 1952 stationed at Treasure Island off of San Francisco. Muggsy and his band obliged me by coming often to the Hangover Club in 'Frisco. Even though I was under age I was able to get in with the uniform on. I can never forget those wonderful nights with Muggsy, Truck & Co.

I ended up in Chicago with Scobey and have been here ever since. It has been my great pleasure through these years to play with truly great Chicago jazz musicians like Truck Parham. I have played many gigs with him since 1959–60...many bands and situations. Truck is always up for any job and always plays his butt off no matter who is on it or what the gig is. I've learned a great deal from working with him and I would like to publicly thank him.

In recent years Truck worked with my group several nights a week at Dick's Last Resort in North Pier. Dick's is a noisy, raunchy place with a contrived rowdiness scenario...bands every night as a backdrop. For several years Dick's had mostly jazz groups. Very few people ever paid much attention to the band...except when Truck Parham stepped out front to do a bluesy solo on his old painted over bass. When he started whanging out a blues line on those gut strings almost everyone in the place immediately paid attention.

Truck would some times take off work when a family member was in need. A grandchild in another part of the country was in trouble or some family member needed help.... Truck would be there for them. And he usually got things straightened out.

Truck saved the day on a weird gig back in the '60s. I can't remember who the leader was but we were flown in a chartered smaller plane to Lincoln, Nebraska to back up singer, Barbara McNair. Barbara was a fine singer and at the peak of her popularity. We arrived with a six piece group which included myself, Truck, Earl Washington on piano, Bobby Ballard on trumpet, someone on reeds and the drummer was hired from Lincoln.

We arrived in the afternoon for a rehearsal at the hotel and McNair has charts for a 16 piece group. And this drummer is terrible...he thinks that time is a magazine. We struggled gamely through these charts and I'll never forget the look of sheer terror in Barbara's eyes. We could all see disaster looming. Truck took her aside and said gently..."Look, don't worry. Everything is going to work out."

That night we get to the concert place and find more bad news. It is an arena and Barbara is going to be 50 yards or so from the band. Well, I'm here to report that Truck Parham stepped to the plate and saved the game. He completely ignored the hopelessly inept drummer and dug in with a bass line and beat that one could not miss. We got through the show okay and Barbara McNair was elated with relief.

That's Truck Parham. He still makes the gigs, toting around his bass and amp like they were playthings. He is as strong as the boxer he was in in his youth. His bass has been painted over many times and other bassists stare in disbelief at this...one does not paint over a bass. But with those gut strings he gets a sound and beat that is distinctly his. He is a walking who's who of jazz. Jimmy Lunceford, Art Tatum, Billy Holliday, Lena Horne, Peal Bailey, Muggsy Spanier, Art Hodes and so many others have been graced by his presence.

Truck has a great story involving himself years ago and a very young Jimmy Blanton. But it would be better if he told it.

Swing on, Truck.

Truck to be honored at
Dal Segno luncheon May 7
by Charles Walton

Charles "Truck" Parham was featured Feb. 17th on WGN TV in a segment of "Forgotten People In Chicago". Truck, as everyone refers to him, is an internationally known jazz musician and is in the Who's Who of Jazz. He was born in Chicago in January, 1911 and had quite an interesting early life. He played professional football with the Chicago Negro All Stars. He originally learned to play drums, before deciding to take string bass lessons with Walter Pare.

In 1932 to 1934 he worked in Cincinnati with Zack Whyte then came back to Chicago.

Here, he worked with:
Jimmy Bell's Tampa Tunesters—Spring, 1935.
Zutty Singleton—Summer, 1935.
Roy Eldrige—1936 until 1938.
Art Tatum—Worked dates early in 1936.
Bob Shoffner's Big Band—1940.
Earl Hines—October 1940 to 1942.
Jimmie Lunceford—for 5 years.
Herbie Fields—late 1956 to 1957.
Earl Hines—1958, briefly, again.
Pearl Bailey and Louis Bellson—various dates.

After 1960, he worked mainly in Chicago with Art Hodes and Roy Eldridge (1971). In 2001-2002, Truck appeared regularly with the Franz Jackson Quartet at Joe's Bebop Cafe on Navy Pier.

Copyright ©2003. All rights reserved.

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