Saturday, May 24, 2008

Remembering Thomas Chapin

It is hard to believe that has been ten years since the death of composer, saxophonist and flautist Thomas Chapin, who died tragically just barely 40 years of age and at the height of his truly potent powers. Chapin's music appealed to me greatly in the 1990's, when I was beginning to deeply explore jazz, he reminded my of my hero Eric Dolphy, as a multi-instrumentalist of endless invention, and by all accounts a fine and generous soul as well. He came to the notice surprisingly enough through the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, which he eventually became the musical director of. This mainstream and swing element of his music was always present, and even at his most out, his music was always accessible.

Chapin recorded a few albums for the Arabesque label, before hooking up with bassist Mario Pavione and drummer Michael Sarin, to form the Thomas Chapin Trio, one of the finest ensembles of modern jazz. Recording for the Knitting Factory label, the core trio was augmented by extra strings and horns on a few albums, but it was always the near telepathic empathy and unassailable musicianship of the core trio that amazed most.

When leukemia struck, he never complained, never asked “why me” but tried traditional and non-traditional medical treatments to no avail. His death left a massive hole in the jazz world, but his spirit lives on, not just in the great music of his colleagues Mario Pavone, Peter Madsen and others, but in the extraordinarily joyous music he left during his fleeting time on Earth. His greatest legacy may be that of breaking down barriers, a realization that the terms “mainstream” and “avant-garde” are just meaningless boxes that we assign to music we haven't take the time to understand. Compassion for all people and all music like Thomas Chapin showed, is a great lesson for us all.

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