By Bob Young, Boston Herald, August 11, 1995
The three-day JVC Jazz Festival, which kicks off today in Newport, R.I., continues its tradition of bringing back familiar stars. Favorites Tito Puente, Earl Klugh, Grover Washington Jr. and Ray Charles are all scheduled.
But a newer tradition will also be in evidence on Sunday afternoon at Fort Adams State Park when the festival features an artist whose most recent CD is fittingly titled, "You Don’t Know Me." Saxophonist and flutist Thomas Chapin, making his Newport debut as a bandleader, is the latest fresh face included by festival producer George Wein to add spice and surprise to the often predictable lineups.
Chapin performed at Newport once before, in the early ‘80s as lead alto and musical director of Lionel Hampton’s band. This time, with drummer Mike Sarin and bassist Mario Pavone, he’ll be covering different territory than he did with the legendary vibes player.
"You Don’t Know Me" (Arabesque) showcases how flawlessly Chapin balances melody and avant-garde adventure as a composer and reedman, whether inspired by Africa, as much of the new CD is, or by his bebop, swing and free jazz experiences.
He’s an exciting player carving out a stylistic path in much the same way that reedmen James Carter and Javon Jackson are.
"I’m exploring different kinds of music," the 38-year-old Chapin said recently from New York. "I’m a 20th century – soon to be 21st century – man, and this is the era we live in. We have a lot of information at our fingertips. But that’s only one aspect, an informational aspect. You want to be as free to follow where your heart leads you as possible."
Chapin’s heart has led him to work with relatively mainstream artists such as Hampton and Chico Hamilton and, in recent years, with much more risk-taking artists in venues including Manhattan’s Knitting Factory, as well as with his mainstream-meets-free-jazz trio.
"It’s a natural thing for me to mix it up," he explained. "It’s all valid material to use. You can take it where you want to take it. The artist needs to be free to do his job as much as possible. That’s what I got into it for and that’s what my commitment is.
"I feel very honored (to be on the Newport bill). As I mature, I get a greater sense of the history and continuum of the music. You have to have this sense of where it’s been, and where it is and where you’d like to go. Where I am right now is seeing a wider perspective of things.
"I want to span the breadth of what’s out there. How can you ignore what’s been? Why can’t there be some sort of integration of styles and ideas? It’s only natural."