Sunday, July 9, 2017

Thomas Chapin

Great to see my old friend and colleague, dearly-departed saxophonist Thomas Chapin, getting some recognition. A film about him, which I haven't seen yet, is starting to gain some traction, which is heartening. When good people die too young (Thomas was just 40), it's their friends' responsibility to keep memory alive. Hence this posting.

Thomas and I played together in a zillion different bands in zillions of places, having spent the 90's happily embedded in a scene of comically flexible musicians whose typical work week might include a gypsy wake, an experimental puppet show, a lesbian drum circle, a chamber music gig, a Haitian dance party, and a big band performance.

Thomas and I took things one level further than most of the others. We were two of the only players at the time who spent as much time playing crazy avant-garde gigs at, say, The Knitting Factory, as we did playing more straight-ahead jazz in conventional jazz clubs and festivals. Those two circles scarcely intersected, as the avant-garde guys tended to be a bit wild and undisciplined, while the straight-ahead guys tended to be technical and narrow-minded.

Haiti to Mozart to puppets to lesbian drummers seemed reasonable, but the chasm between 1958-style African-American music and 1975-style African-American music was vast. I was a completely different musician on each side of that border, working with totally different pools of colleagues and unique musical challenges. The only common denominator, in fact, was Thomas!

These days, most good musicians can play anything. But back then, while a number players sort of dabbled at the two styles, very few approached both with serious commitment.

So while it wasn't uncommon to find ourselves screaming our heads off in our funky threads at some psychedelic brass band tribute to Jimi Hendrix, it would feel briefly strange when Thomas and I encountered each other in suit and tie (crazy haircuts well-concealed) playing gigs at the Apollo Theater or the Blue Note. Then we'd both remember that, oh yeah; of course, he does this, too! We were like two spies under deep cover bumping into each other out in the field.

Here's the link for the film again, if you want to buy the DVD, or donate (these guys have really been slogging to get the project done).

My work with Chowhound (and, even more so, with my new app, Eat Everywhere) obviously channeled the same credo of nimble-but-heartfelt culture surfing (promiscuity, if you will). In fact, Thomas enjoyed a great cross-cultural bite as much as I did. The chowhounding scene and the postmodern music scene are like identical cousins.

More on that here.

No comments:

Blog Archive