Thomas Chapin, 40, Raucous Musician

February 15, 1998
The New York Times
by Peter Watrous

Thomas Chapin, one of the more exuberant saxophonists and band leaders in jazz, died of complications due to leukemia on Friday at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence , said a friend, Sam Kaufman. He was 39.

Mr. Chapin was one of jazz's more extraordinary musicians. A typical solo of his moved easily between traditional jazz and the sonic explorations of the avant- garde, and in concert he was a showman, using yells and roars and howls to charge his performances.

Mr. Chapin was a fan of two of the more raucous saxophonists in jazz history, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Earl Bostic , and he approached his shows in part as theater. None of his extroversion diminished the sense that Chapin was deeply studied, and in his playing one heard everything from folk music of the world to be-bop, from classical music to early jazz. And Mr. Chapin was one of the few musicians to exist in both the worlds of the downtown, experimentalist scene and mainstream jazz.

He came to his breadth of knowledge naturally. Mr. Chapin began his serious studies in the early 1980s, attending the University of Hartford and studying with saxophonist Jackie McLean . He later graduated from Rutgers University , after studying with pianist Kenny Barron. The schooling he received allowed him to take over the leadership of Lionel Hampton 's orchestra for six years, starting in 1981, and also maintain a position in Chico Hamilton's band as a saxophonist.

But Mr. Chapin had other ideas, and in the late 1980s he formed his own groups, most notably a trio with the bassist Mario Pavone and the drummer Steve Johns . And he entered the fertile world of the Knitting Factory; Mr. Chapin was the first artist signed by the club's record label, Knitting Factory Records.*

For nearly 10 years Mr. Chapin pursued his own music, working with the trio at festivals and clubs around the world, and also arranging larger groups. And he spent a good portion of his time working with the more important names in various factions of jazz. He performed with John Zorn , Dave Douglas , Ned Rothenberg , Marty Ehrlich, Ray Drummond , Ronnie Mathews , Peggy Stern , Tom Harrell , Anthony Braxton and many more. Over his career Mr. Chapin recorded about 15 albums; his most recent, "Sky Piece" (Knitting Factory), a trio recording was recently released. He is survived by a wife, Terri Castillo Chapin , of Queens .

Copyright © 1998 by The New York Times Co.
Reprinted with permission.

*All albums previously released on Knitting Factory Records are now the sole property of and available through Akasha, Inc.

Photo used by courtesy of Jack Vartoogian/