The late Thomas Chapin in 1996.
Thomas Chapin Film Project – July, 2013
— The moving story of Connecticut native and NYC jazz man, the late Thomas Chapin, will begin to unfold for documentary film cameras starting July 8 at a Hartford, CT concert, which will feature musicians who knew him and played with him during his short but remarkable 20-year musical career.Chapin, who passed away in 1998 from leukemia, is the subject of EMMY Award-winning filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo’s 10th documentary. He is remembered as a brilliant bandleader, composer and multi-instrumentalist known for his energetic and virtuosic playing of alto sax and flute. He battled leukemia for a year before he died just as he was gaining wider recognition for his original style and his natural ability to play to both straight-ahead jazz audiences and adventurous avant jazz fans. This quality of crossing over, unique in jazz for the 80’s and 90’s, was just gaining the interest of major record labels.
Castillo decided to begin her shooting of the planned 90-minute NIGHT BIRD SONG: THE THOMAS CHAPIN STORY in the greater Hartford area, where Chapin was born and played in all his musical life. “When he was on the road with Lionel Hampton, or at the many and various gigs he played around the world, or just down the way from NYC and his gigs there, Thomas always came home to sit in and jam with his fellow musician friends. It’s only fitting that we start our film shoot here,” she said.
The July 8 concert at Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford will feature Chapin’s longtime friends who played with him: bassist/composer Mario Pavone, drummer Steve Johns, trombonist Peter McEachern, and pianist Peter Madsen. It was at this place where Pavone, also a CT native, first heard Thomas Chapin play. Shortly after that eventful meeting, the two joined forces to play and compose together, forming the Thomas Chapin Trio, which during its seven-year run featured several drummers, including Steve Johns.
More about the Concert
The July 8 concert is being produced by the Hartford Jazz Society and kicks off its summer series of free concerts at the Thomas D. Harris IV Pavilion in Bushnell Park.Monday Night Jazz is the nation’s longest-running free jazz concert series and is in its its 46th consecutive season.
Headliners Mario Pavone and his Orange Double Tenor (septet) will play music from their highly acclaimed 2010 and 2011 CDs, Ancestors and Arc Suite respectively. Pavone describes the septet: “It features two powerhouse tenor saxophonists who hail from Connecticut– Jimmy Greene and Noah Preminger; Austrian-American virtuoso pianist Peter Madsen; master drummer Steve Johns; trumpet whiz Dave Ballou; Connecticut legend, trombonist Peter McEachern; and myself, on bass and compositions.”
Pavone added that the group will also play a special arrangement of Thomas Chapin’s composition “Sky Piece,” arranged by one of Thomas’s mentors, the noted jazz saxophonist and educator Paul Jeffrey.
The concert begins at 6 p.m. and will be kicked off by a performance by Rahstet.
More about Chapin
Chapin first emerged in the mid-1980s in New York City after a six-year stint with Lionel Hampton as his lead alto sax and musical director; he was just out of college and in his early twenties. Chapin quickly became known as one of the avant jazz regulars at the Knitting Factory, a famed experimental downtown NYC night spot where he went on to record 12 CDs with his Thomas Chapin Trio. He and the trio were also performing on the big world stages of jazz and Chapin himself with many other jazz ensembles and musical groups. Today Thomas Chapin is in the jazz history books.
“Though he’s been gone for 15 years, clearly his music lives on today on radio, in an acclaimed posthumous new release last year, and in the music of others who include tributes to Chapin in their recordings and performances,” says Castillo. “Young jazz students are discovering him, and he continues to excite jazz fans new to his music.” Castillo, who describes her film as an intimate portrait of a beloved artist, will delve deeply into why his music remains timeless and why his indomitable spirit remains unforgettable. “It will be a tale told by those who knew him best.” Besides fellow musicians and critics/writers who followed him, his story will be told on film by his brother, Ted Chapin and Thomas’s wife, Terri Chapin, who carries on his legacy.
About the Film Crew
Castillo’s film crew will be headed by Hugh Walsh, an award-winning filmmaker and cinematographer from Queens, NY. For the concert shoot, the filmmaker is including second cameraman, Hartford-based Helder Mira, and third cameraman/sound man Richard Dean, from Washington, D.C. Joining the crew will be Greg Laxer (a.k.a. Jazz Officer Spaak) of CT public radio station WWUH 91.3 FM; he will be providing voluntary production assistance. Castillo is the film’s writer, director and producer. Working with her to conceptualize the documentary is film editor and Queens, NY native Laura Corwin, a filmmaker who specializes in music videos and music documentaries.
The Rest of the July Shoot
The days following the July 8 concert, Castillo and Walsh will focus on capturing on-camera interviews with Pavone, Madsen, Johns, and McEachern and will visit the Litchfield Jazz Festival’s jazz camp, where internationally recognized jazz artists teach alongside Connecticut musicians. Also to be interviewed is WWUH 91.3 FM’s Jazz Program Director Chuck Obuchowski, who interviewed Chapin many times during his visits to Hartford. Castillo will also interview in Hartford is the famed drummer of the Allman Brothers, Jaimo Johanson, who was wowed by Chapin’s sax playing and who well-remembers a gig he did with Chapin at Hartford’s 880 Club.
After Hartford, Castillo and crew will move on to Manhattan and Brooklyn, where she will continue with 15 more on-camera interviews. Interviewees include Ted Chapin; Terri Chapin; the old Knitting Factory’s founder, Michael Dorf; Bruce Gallanter of Downtown Music Gallery; music writers Francis Davis, Bob Blumenthal, Larry Blumenfeld and Gene Seymour; Chapin’s childhood friend and bassist, Arthur Kell; musicians guitarist Saul Rubin, woodwind master Ned Rothenberg, guitarist/engineer Bob Musso, drummer Michael Sarin, and saxophonist Jerry Weldon; educator and bassist Larry Ridley; and Sam Kaufman, Chapin’s manager. Other interviews are pending.
Fundraising for the Film
The Hawaii-based Castillo, who is living in Queens while she makes the film, ran a successful online fundraising campaign to raise the needed $50,000 to begin shooting her documentary this summer. The page and its video is still live at
NIGHT BIRD SONG is slated for a late 2014 finish. She continues to seek funding to keep the project moving forward. All donations and funding sponsorships are welcomed, big and small.
Tax-deductible donations are being received by Akasha Inc., a nonprofit organization furthering music education and the musical legacy of Thomas Chapin. Go towww.thomaschapin.com/donate to donate with a credit card.
Checks or U.S. money orders should be made out to “Akasha Inc.”
Send to: Akasha Inc., P. O. Box 721032, Jackson Heights, NY 11372 USA