- 33 years ago -
(Random thoughts on the 33rd anniversary of the passing of Bill Chase)
We were going to change the world.
August 9th, 1974 33 years ago today was heavy with the kind of anticipation that comes after you've been through hell but you still see heaven right up ahead. Chase, the band and it's members, was at personal and professional crossroads and this gig, our first since Houston 2 weeks before, was the first time we'd seen each other since that gig which was an insane jumble of business, personnel and management hassles that seemed to cloud Bill's offstage life.
Nevertheless we knew, as you will hear on our live recordings (see the link above), that we were transforming Bill's sound into something that was connecting with our audiences. Instead of the straight-four jazz-ROCK sound which we all dug, Walt and I found that Bill liked improvised bass/drum patterns on Bochawa and Close Up Tight. It became a very different challenge for Bill and Jay each night. It was fun because we were trashing the arrangements but attaining an elasticity that allowed him to breath, relax, rest his chops, and actually think about what he was doing again. There was no doubt that despite the problems, this band was going to stay the course. It was with this enthusiasm that Jim, Jay, and I were waiting in Jackson, Minn for the guys to land so we could take off in our own personal Chase rocketship......
I'm writing today though after actually a attending a reunion of Chase band members last week. We were in St. Paul last week because Joe Morrissey, the last horn player that Bill hired on the band, brought us together and gave us all a gift that will last a long time in our hearts.
You'll see the pictures and possibly hear the DVD of the events but what you don't see throughout the proceedings are the deeply felt spirit of Bill, Walter, Wally, Angel, Johnny and Jerry that gave the proceedings, for me, a sense of reverence and reverie at the same time.
To feel Bill's music enter my pores again and to recapture the muscle-memory to play this music again was something that words fail to fully describe. It was a wonderful surprise to hear THAT sound again. Bracing to say the least. 5 trumpets do clear out the sinuses and while some may have forgotten, we brought back that pure animal energy that only a world class group of special human beings can produce.
You see, that was the rush of expectation, hope, determination and friendship that was arriving this afternoon 33 years ago. When the Minnesota skies were dark and threatening last week, it was a mirror image of that fateful day and I remember thinking that Bill doesn't want me to forget about him tonight. During my solo on Twinkles, I was 'visited' again by the guys and they made their presence felt to their people in attendance.
I have a sense of completion now that I have met Walt Clarks incredible daughter, Jerry Van Blair's family, Johnny Emma's lovely wife and Wally's life partner who all came to the gig and offered beautiful thoughts and remembrances. It was with gusto, and excitement that all of us came together in the twin cities last week. In a world where tragedy results all to often, we should be thankful for those opportunities to celebrate people who seek to elevate the human experience. Thanks again Bill. Thanks to Bill's family and the families of our brothers and Thanks to the spirit of life that sustains the rest of us. Let's do what we can to bring some harmony to this world. Peace and Love to all.
IMAGE GALLERY FROM ST. PAUL FOR IPHOTO AND MAC USERS
We had a blast and I have a feeling you haven't seen the last of the Pure Music Band.
Click here. Special Slideshow
San Rafael -- I'm writing this August 9, 2006. 32 years ago today my life, already a turbulent affair, was changed irrevocably with the tragic, needless plane crash that killed my friend, my boss and my collaborator William "Bill" Chase.
It just so happens that I'm alone at my home right now and it's 10:20 a.m. on a Wednesday in sunny Northern CA. It does take me back to that day which was anything but sunny. The storms that sliced across the Midwest that day were heavy, ominous and unpredictable; so much so that the four of us who drove the 200 or so miles to the gig were unsure of our sanity in trying make it from Iowa to the county fairgrounds in Jackson, Minnesota.
I didn't start out to write this story but perhaps I should continue for my own sake. To tell a story that I've never even told myself in the 30 years since that unspeakably horrible day in 1974 when we waited in vain, in the rain for our friend who never arrived.
Even with 40 years of writing experience, I feel ill-equipped to write appropriate words about the occasion of Bill's passing from this earth. To lose Wally Yohn, Walter Clark and John Emma was an overwhelming loss for me. I am ashamed that I don't have the pilot's name at the tip of my mind's tongue too but that is the extent to which my personal inablility to deal with the passing of these brave men. I couldn't even attend the funeral's of my comrades as I didn't have the guts to confront their passing.
While I still don't do funerals (there's only one that I HAVE to attend, after all.) I have always lived my life as a testament to the inspiration that Bill (and many others) have given to me.
I met Bills' parents back in 1974 when we played a gig in the Boston area in support of our recently released album (Pure Music). They were the warmest, most supportive folks whose nature instantly illustrated to me why Bill was such a great guy to have as a band leader. His inclusive Italian-American heritage had a lot to do with the fact that he always wanted to take care of everybody in his domain. Like a good host, if you were in the band, he would do almost anything to help you, even when it meant going against his own self interest, business or even personal.
When someone like Bill Chase does something that is fairly revolutionary they usually take a big ration of static from those of us who are not ready to take the step with them. In our time, the band with its 4-tet of trumpets was viewed as an oddity because we were never as commercially viable as, say, Chicago, or as improvisational as a full bebop-oriented group.
What we were was an act that was consistently as exciting as anything I've ever seen anywhere, anytime.....period.
There was no way that you were not going to be viscerally affected by Bill Chase's trumpet opening to our concerts. We played with Sly and the Family Stone, the Spinners, and Herbie Hancock during my 17 months with Bill and in performance, my own collection of live bootlegs proves that Chase kicked ass most every time we took the stage.
Bill did not have the business clout to carry out a full-court press in the media but to the thousands of fans we played from around the United States and Canada there is no doubt that Chase concerts were something special and not easily forgotten.
God, I can NOT believe it has been 30 years since that fateful day.
Waiting for their plane to arrive was a descent into hell as we traversed the emotional spectrum from amusement, to nervous concern about an hour before the gig, to fear as the rains and winds picked up.
About 6 PM another storm came through the fairgrounds, but this one was different, this one was gut-wrenching and I promptly, and for no apparent reason, I left the stage area and ran through a drenching rain back to our trailer/dressing room where I sat for a good while holding a guitar that I would never again play with my friends and bandmates.
We waited at the fairgrounds until 10 PM that night and then we drove back to Jefferson, Iowa to wait for news of Bill, Wally, Walter and John. We were in the Oatts' family living room when we got the call confirming the awful facts. I can't recall at this moment the facts ( I never followed up on investigative reports on the accident although others have) except to say that it happened around 6-7PM when I was walking through the rain back to my trailer.
It would have been great, I often fantasized, to be in the original group with Jerry, Jay, Angel and the crew. They, after all, opened the door to an opportunity that the rest of us were able to take advantage of. Thanks guys, I'll always be grateful to you.
The Chase band I knew was, musically speaking, a little less tightly arranged, a little more flexible and according to what Bill told me was an appropriate vehicle for what he was planning in the future. The "Iowa" version of the Chase band (remember Tommy Gordon, (DM) brought me (DM) on the band in April '73. I called Jim Oatts (Jefferson) and Joe Morrissey (DM) in early 74) was just as worthy of the Chase legacy as any of them. The fact that Bill and I had co-written music for both artistic and commercial projects was testament that we were finding new ways to showcase the new rhythmic vitality which complemented his already famous harmonic breakthroughs.
If you don't believe me, ask Herbie Hancock. The Headhunters and Chase were both signed to Columbia/Epic and our albums were both released within weeks of each other. The fun thing back then was that we did press parties and gigs together in the NYC and Boston areas so we got a chance to hang together playing for each other and hanging out after gigs.
I still have tapes of one day in April '74 at the Half-Note in NYC where Herbie had his press party and performance in the afternoon with the HeadHunters and we played our NYC coming-out party on the same stage that evening. Stunning gigs in an incredible time. I'll never forget seeing such people as Joe Farrell, Alphonse Mouzon, Mike Brecker, and many others in the audience during those days.
Thirty years ago today, I was a 23-year-old hotshot on his third year away from college after time spent playing bass around the Midwest and then nationwide with Bill.
By the evening of this day, some 32 years ago, I was destined to return to college, meet my future partner in parenting and music in October-november of 1974 and embark on a life that can only be described as pretty miraculous.
Some of you know about Jaimeo and Marisha, my son and daughter. To be a part of raising two responsible young Americans who bring nothing but honor and love to their parents is worth more than any business or artistic accomplishment I could name. To have them also be musically talented is a blessing. Through them, the music will be strong for the future.
So, I hope you can understand the bittersweet memories of this day for me. I wish with all my heart that things could have been different this day 32 years ago. I sometimes wish Bill and Wally and Walter and the whole band were still playing, still blowing away audiences, still riding that bus, or those station wagons, still at Universal studios with Murray at the desk. I still wish Tommy was booking us at Wise Fools in Chicago and still setting up tours like the ones with Jim Croce, The Spinners, Frank Zappa, and even Iron Butterfly.......but that won't happen.
The things that remain, though, are rock solid. Those are my fond memories of you my departed comrades and for the bond between mates that allows then to create, to live a dream, to bring happiness and inspiration to people of all ages. The fact is that music, played with passion, excitement and precision can, and will, lift the spirits of all who hear.
Thanks, reader for bearing with this remembrance of mine. It's been a long time coming and it took more effort than you might realize to get it out but at least you know that indeed, Bill Chase was a friend of mine and will always be remembered with pride and fondness.
Bill, Wally, Walter, Johnny we will never, ever forget you.
Dartanyan August 9, 2003 (edited August 9, 2006)