three years after his untimely death in a plane crash, Bill Chase is still
recognized as one of the premier exponents of Jazz-Rock fusion. Earning
his laurels in the lead trumpet chair for bands headed by Maynard Ferguson,
Stan Kenton, and Woody Herman he went on to establish his own group to
explore the area between Jazz and Rock.
Classically trained as a youth, Chase graduated from Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he studied under Herb Pomeroy. He also studied with Armando Ghitalla of the Boston Symphony. Chase's parents encourage his interest as a child, offering violin lessons first, then were supportive as his enthusiasm moved from instrument to instrument.
Although his father had played trumpet as a member of the Gillette Marching Band, Chase did not recall him as an inspiration for that instrument. His mother's side of the family was also very musical. His grandfather was able to play the piano by ear, and his great-uncle was first trombone player with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and Enrico Carusso.
After high school Chase began studying at the New England Conservatory, but a difference of direction with the Trumpet professor sent Chase in search of other instruction. He was soon at the Berklee School of Music studying with John Coffey. Although Coffey was a trombonist, he also taught trumpets at the school. "Coffey's whole teaching was correct embouchure. That was one thing he corrected me on right away. I was definitely not using my lips properly. The placement of the mouthpiece on my lips was wrong and he corrected that for me."
Chase credits Ghitalla with giving him a "groovy attitude" towards the trumpet. "He loves the trumpet--absolutely loves the trumpet," Chase said. "I developed a thing like that too. I love to play it. I love the sound of it, and as I play and get older, it gets stronger. The longer I play the trumpet, the more I like to play it, the better I'm getting at playing it, and the more fun I have with it."
It was while still a student at Berklee in 1952 that he was invited to an event which changed his direction. A fellow student asked Chase to attend a Stan Kenton performance. "Those were the days when Maynard Ferguson was in the band, playing all that powerhouse horn," Chase told Los Angeles Times writer Leonard Feather during a 1971 interview. "My ears opened up like a parachute. I couldn't believe him! All that night and next day I was making noises to myself, trying to recapture Maynard's sound."
He was soon immersed in the big band sound, buying up all the records he could find, and comparing their lead trumpeters. His Berklee instructor, Pomeroy, was also trumpet-leader of a Boston orchestra, and Chase was soon a member of that band. "One night," Chase recalled, Maynard Ferguson came into the club. "I told him, if you ever need a trumpet player, call me up. To my amazement, not long afterward he did."
Chase played with Ferguson about a year, then later gained experience aboard the Stan Kenton bandwagon before spending most of the early and middle 1960s with Woody Herman.
"That was hard work--I had
to play lead trumpet and set fire to the whole band. Even when we saw nothing
but buses and hotel rooms and ballrooms, when my chops were beat or swollen,
I just forced myself to keep going. Woody was an inspiration; he's a true
pro. He showed me that my primary duty was never to let the public down,"
Chase said. The respect was mutual. Herman recalled Chase to be the best
"lead Trumpet" to pass through
When his group Chase blasted on the scene with "Get It On," Chase rocketed to national attention with his horn section using to full advantage delicate contrapuntal figures, swinging riffs, ingeniously-scored colorations as well as powerful climaxes. All lying atop the potent rhythmic base of the group.
The trip to the top was swift. Chase was soon in demand by Johnny Carson, The Smothers Brothers and many of the other hot variety shows on television. His live performances entranced audiences around the U.S. and abroad, and the dynamic excitement of his musical arrangements captivated music educators. His "Get It On" was a staple of halftime performances across the nation.
He played both rock and jazz concerts fitting in with both audiences, and winning the admiration of musicians in both genres. In 1974, Chase chartered a plane to take him and three band members to a performance in Jackson, MN. The weather was bad with a low ceiling, and the airport in Jackson had little communications equipment. The plane went down, but was not found until the next day. There were no survivors. - Dick Cooper
Bill Chase Play His Great Trumpet Music