Jazz singer Dante Chambers has used his improvisation skills many times throughout his life, whether he’s performing music, digging out of the trenches of homelessness or helping his peers.
He chalks his skills up to jazz vocalist Barbara Morrison.
“Barbara always compared it to jazz,” he recalled. “You have to learn to improvise. Once you know what needs to be done, you have to learn how to take the information you have, improvise it and play it through—and still get the job done.”
Chambers and Morrison will perform as part of the third annual California Jazz & Blues Museum’s hall of fame induction ceremony at 8 p.m. Sunday, September 20. The show is a fundraiser for the 21,000-square-foot facility, the California Jazz & Blues Museum and Performing Arts Complex, which will be located at 4299 Leimert Boulevard at 43rd Street in Leimert Park.
During the virtual celebration, the two will be backed by guitarist Charles Small, bassist Michael Saucier, drummer Peter Buck and guitarist Bernie Pearl.
Morrison also will introduce a new song written by herself and Saucier called “Put Your Mask On.” The LA Swing Dance Posse will also perform. The show is directed and choreographed by Chester Whitmore.
Chambers will be inducted into the hall of fame with the likes of Howard Banchik of the Harmony Project; Motown trombonist George Bohanon; Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.; Marla Gibbs; actress Gloria Hendry; Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”); Motown A&R director William “Mickey” Stevenson; Blinky Williams (“Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do”); and pianist Phil Wright.
“I like the company that I’m in,” Chambers said.
“It’s just a real honor, but the honor is to be standing on the shoulders of those who have come before us and representing the music.”
Chambers has performed on the LA jazz circuit for about 20 years. Recently, he starred as Billy Eckstine in the jazz musical “1940s at Club Sweet Lorraine’s.”
When Chambers moved to LA from the Milwaukee area, he wanted to dance, but fate had other plans.
“I went to talent shows all over the city. At one event, I went out to dance, but there were so many people out there, my legs just froze and I couldn’t move, so I just started to sing instead,” Chambers said.
“The audience cheered, and I’ve been singing ever since.”
He provided his smooth sounds to the “Reignite the Dream” series hosted by Denny’s; performed at the 2000 Democratic National Convention; and lent his vocals to the Duke Ellington Centennial Concert and the KLON Jazz Caravan.
Chambers worked with and been inspired by some of the great names in jazz. They include Billy Higgins, Horace Tapscott, Rose Gales and Barry Harris. In 2001 he was recognized for his efforts with a special award from Morrison and the Young Educated Singers.
But the Downtown LA resident fell homeless. Chambers has since worked with the LA Poverty Department and its Skid Row Artists, and for Project 180, the Los Angeles County provider of intensive treatment for federal probationers with mental health or co-occurring disorders.
“I’ve been there for about 10 years, working with the homeless,” said Chambers, who met Morrison through her YES (Young Educated Singers) program. “When I started, I was one of the homeless people.”
He also works with Project 180, which turns lives around through innovative, wraparound services to keep people out of jails and prisons.
“They were the first ones that gave me an opportunity to learn something other than singing and music,” he said. “They started teaching me how to deal with people, how to deal with myself. They created an environment where, if you made a mistake, they figured out how to keep it from happening again. It’s a family environment, a loving environment, to help the less fortunate.”
Chambers’ mother was a Black Muslim who had a third-grade education, he said. However, she found success with her six to seven businesses that included two restaurants, a thrift store and two homes.
“She had a third-grade education, and she learned how to do all that,” he said. “She was an entrepreneur, a free spirit.
“But when she passed away, I couldn’t go home to the funeral, because I didn’t want to go. When I was able to go back, I went to the gravesite and I apologized to my mother for not being there. I wasn’t right. I know she wanted me right.”
He’s continuing the fight for himself and others. A Kenosha, Wisconsin, native, he recalled the conflict with the police that continues.
“We’d have regular house parties, and the cops would come in with the dogs and sic dogs on us,” Chambers said. “We were kids. When I look at the unrest in Kenosha, it’s all overdue. At a certain point, you just get tired. We have to keep the fight going.”
Morrison has watched Chambers through all of it.
“I know all the people who have paid their dues,” she said. “Dante’s one of them. He’s tenacious, a hard worker and he helps other people. That’s the one thing I adore about him. When he gets out there, he works hard. He has a very big heart. He has a wonderful heart. I’m a double amputee. Sometimes he comes by around noon with something really healthy. He’ll bring me a lunch out of the clear blue sky. He’s very caring.”
The California Jazz & Blues Museum Hall of Fame Induction
Ceremony and Concert Fundraiser
8 p.m. Sunday, September 20
$20 suggested donation