Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Film: Thomas Chapin - Night Bird Song

Thomas Chapin was one of my musical heroes when I was getting deeply into jazz in the 1990's and his death in 1998 was a shocking loss of one of the most interesting and joyful voices in progressive jazz. This documentary film goes a long way in demonstrating to people who might not be familiar with his work what a protean voice he was on saxophone and flute, and that he was an original composer to boot. He recorded a remarkable series of albums for the Knitting Factory label, each one one audaciously adventurous than the last, anchored by his legendary trio with Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin, one of the finest working groups of the post-war era. Whether playing in the trio format, or adding strings or brass to augment them, the music has a sense of spiritual discovery with each recording, a sensibility that wasn't forced, but one that came from the sheer act of creation and improvisation. As the documentary shows, he embraced the idea of jazz as a "big tent" as Jackie McLean, one of his mentors would put it, anything from swing through free jazz was fair game and was played with equal grace and fire. He was the bandleader for the Lionel Hampton big band for many years in the 1980's and further demonstrated his mainstream jazz credentials with albums for Arabesque and Brazilian jazz experiments. The film is able to take a holistic view of his life and career, moving through his years at music school and then interweaving footage of him in concert, especially some electrifying trio music from the Newport Jazz Festival in 1995, with revealing interview segments with friends and colleagues. There is a very touching interview with his wife, detailing how they met after he stopped her in her tracks while playing flute in Grand Central Station, and then his lengthy trip through Africa, through to his diagnosis and eventual passing away from leukemia. But this isn't really a memorial film, it is a celebration of a remarkable musician and person who made the most of his incredible talent in the short time he had available. Thomas Chapin Film Project

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