WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN
The era of the American saxophonist, flautist, composer and arranger Thomas Chapin (March 9, 1957) was set in the late eighties and nineties. The years in which he flourished as a musician, the years his creativity grows into a crackling fire. In his two decades of performing, Chapin is a force, a player with "monstrous chops," whose sound is individual and incomparable. He has an uncanny gift of melding all forms of jazz into a single body of music and his pathway of moving sound is so multi-directional, yet singular, so original, yet steeped in tradition, that the jazz community struggles to categorize him. As one of the few artists of his generation to exist in both the New York City's downtown experimentalist scene and in the uptown world of traditional jazz, Chapin is tireless and passionate in his pursuit of creating an edgy, engaging, cutting-edge sound that pushes jazz forward, while being fearless in showing his mainstream influences. In June 2016, Aidan Levy of the JazzTimes Magazine writes that Chapin is "considered by some to have fundamentally expanded the boundaries of the jazz discourse."
Of course his musical career started years earlier. He's born in a small town, Manchester, Connecticut, U.S.A., in 1957, and as a baby he's banging on the pots and pans (sprawled everywhere) in the kitchen much to his mother's dismay. As an adolescent he takes piano lessons as many kids do and learns the flute. In 1972 he attends a private high school in Andover, Massachusetts, and there a music teacher hears something in his playing and thrusts a saxophone in his hands. That was it! Chapin puts all his focus on the instrument and never looks back. Music will be his calling and life and 'first love.' There, too, he becomes part of an improvisational quartet, Zasis, for eight years. This energetic and free collective will have a lasting influence upon his future musical style and direction. Chapin goes on to study with Kenny Baron and Jackie McLean at The Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, Connecticut, 1978, and later with Paul Jeffrey and Ted Dunbar at Rutgers University in New Jersey, 1980, where he gets his BA in music. Barely graduated, Thomas Chapin joins the Lionel Hampton Big Band in 1981. Also in the Lionel Hampton Big Band then were tenor saxophonists Ricky Ford and Arnett Cobb, alto saxophonist Paul Jeffrey and trumpeter Barry Ries. Chapin stays six years as musical director and soloist on alto saxophone and flute. The band tours the world and plays on all the global festival stages. In his book “Jazz The Modern Resurgence” Stuart Nicholson remembers that in that time Hampton, to everyone's surprise, and sometimes horror, chooses ‘In The Mood’ and ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ as an encore. No wonder that Ned Rothenberg, friend and colleague of Thomas Chapin, typifies the period Chapin works with Hampton as: “He seriously paid his dues.”
Also in 1981, he records under his own name his first-ever album, an LP, "The Bell of the Heart" with Mario Pavone's Alacra label. All tunes are original, except "Body and Soul". Pavone and Chapin had just met and were just starting out their music association. The musicians playing on "Bell of the Heart" are George Alford/Peter McEachern/Phil Buettner/Nick Makros/Lucian Williams/Mario Pavone/Emmett Spencer/Matt Emerzian.
A milestone career Trio performance at Newport Jazz Fest, 1995
After the years with Hampton, Thomas joins the band of drummer Chico Hamilton for two years and in the meantime he also plays in different contexts. A Latin classical chamber ensemble, several flamenco groups, a freefunk-free-jazz-rock band Machine Gun, the straight ahead Connecticut-based jazz band Motation, the NY-based Peruvian jazz singer Corina Bartra, and his Brazilian-Afro Cuban ensemble Spirits Rebellious and album by the same name, (Alacra, 1989), greatly influenced by his hero, Brazilian composer-musician Hermeto Pascoal.
In April 1984 he records a second album under his own name of mostly original tunes, except Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz, and is well received when it is finally released in 1990. The CD is "Radius” (on guitarist-friend Bob Musso's MUWorks Records label; Musso is also the album's engineer), with pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Ray Drummond, drummer John Betsch, Ara Dinkjian, oud and Sam Turner, congas. Still today a highly-acclaimed work, this engaging record shows how much Chapin was affected by legends like Jackie McLean, Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk.