"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A night of music revival, tragedy in 2007

The above photo includes your blog host, Brian Williams, at left, with a fellow concert goer and a musician on August 1, 2007, at the Minnesota Music Cafe in St. Paul, "where the food's great and the music's cooking." At right is Del Sarlette of Sarlettes Music in Morris. When you write out a check there, be precise and don't write "Sartell's Music" or "Starlite Music," and don't use an apostrophe. It's "Sarlettes Music." At center in photo is G.G. Shinn who was once lead singer for the jazz-rock fusion group "Chase." The band had a reunion concert on this night, the same night as the I-35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River. The "squirrel" in photo was obviously put there as a computer trick when this was a fad, by Del. You also see an old album jacket that featured Shinn when he was getting started in music. This album was put out in 1968 for "Putt-Putt Golf Courses of America." G.G. was astonished and pleased when he saw we brought this obscure collector's item with us. His exact words were "where the hell did you get that?" and he proceeded to place a warm autograph note on it.

I can remember a time when you'd periodically hear that "big bands are coming back." Well, big bands have never really left. College jazz bands keep playing those dated "charts." Ballroom dancing will continue having its niche in the wide dance universe. None of it will be forgotten, but the Glenn Miller era has receded into history just like the heyday of the sport of boxing.
Boxing still exists naturally. But when was the last time we waited with breathless anticipation for a big heavyweight bout? A bout only on "closed circuit television?"
Perhaps the curtain was closed when Mike Tyson bit an opponent's ear off. (In wrestling they at least fake that.) Or maybe when sports medicine began telling us that boxing's participants were almost literally getting their brains beat out.
So boxing is most definitely marginalized in today's sports entertainment culture.
What about big bands? In the 1970s there was a small group of bands that young people everywhere flocked to see. You didn't dance to these bands, you listened to them.
Bill Chase advanced the sound to appeal to younger ears, better than anyone. Chase's band was nine members strong so it was surely "big." But few people would have referred to his group as a "big band." It seemed like a rock band.
Technically it was jazz-rock fusion.
It is mind-boggling to wonder where Chase's immense creative impulses would have taken him, had he lived. He died in a plane crash in our state of Minnesota. He was working on the group's fourth album at the time.
Bill Chase and band members were en route to the Jackson County Fair in southern Minnesota. The crash victims included Chase, age 39, and fellow musicians Wally Yohn (keyboard), Walter Clark (drums) and John Emma (guitar).
Chase had burst on the national scene in 1971. Perhaps if I cite the group's biggest hit, it will ring familiar. "Get It On" with the cascading trumpet section lines was on that seminal first album. It became the group's signature tune, and arrangements of it were played by school musical groups everywhere including here in Morris. Director John Woell had his musicians play "Get It On" at the old elementary auditorium.
"Get It On" spent 13 weeks on the charts. The band was nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy but got edged by Carly Simon who was just coming into her own.
The second album from Chase, "Ennea," came out in 1972. "Ennea" is the Greek word for "nine," the number of musicians in Chase's band. The whole band was pictured on the cover and they had very sober expressions. Is that why the album wasn't as successful? I don't know but I felt that artistically it was outstanding.
One whole side of this album was a "concept" piece (like what Jethro Tull was known for at that time) with tunes that segued one to the other. The old term for this is "medley." One critique said the concept stuff wasn't radio-friendly enough.
I loved it. In 1974 the group issued "Pure Music" which drove more into the field of jazz. In spite of that, Variety Magazine called this album "their most commercial." There was no reprise of the "Get It On" impact, though.
The fourth album never made it into pressing. We'll never know if Bill Chase could have reached those coveted chart positions again, or just be satisfied putting out artistically stimulating material.
Fast-forward to 2007. So much time had gone by since the heyday of the group "Chase." But there are still plenty of trumpet devotees who remember those cascading trumpet lines and rock-style intensity of the group.
In August of 2007, fans gathered at the Minnesota Music Cafe in St. Paul for a revival. "Alumni" of the Chase band were to be featured onstage along with other musicians in this event co-billed as a "trumpet summit."
The date was August 1, 2007. Something else of significance happened that evening. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge fell into the river. Yours truly and my companion for the concert began hearing reports on the bridge tragedy on the radio as we wound through the Twin Cities en route. The bridge was not on our route.
It sounded bad but we weren't sure just how bad. As time went on the enormity sank in. We called our respective homes from the parking area next to the Minnesota Music Cafe to say we were OK. My companion was Del Sarlette of Sarlettes Music in Morris. We both chose the trumpet as our "ax" when young.
We both attended concerts of some of the big traveling big bands in the 1970s. We heard the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman, all of whom are deceased now. There were other young Morris musicians besides Del and me who were equally attracted to those sounds. Certainly I'd forget some names if I attempted listing, but let's throw out Steve Schaub and Tom Garberick as card-carrying members. Tom's dad Doug was a jazz patriarch here.
Those concerts seemed like true "events." Those bands had a sound that gave the foundation for Chase, who really tailored it for the particular young ears of the time.
I recall that Chase played in Morris once. I wasn't there. According to Morris legend, a huge portion of the crowd left after intermission, not necessarily because the music wasn't good but because it was too loud!
That could be a problem in those days. The youth really demanded that their music be loud. You were a prude if you didn't appreciate this. Today some of those boomers might wish they had kept the volume lower. Increasingly they might find themselves asking people to repeat things.
Del and I entered the Minnesota Music Cafe and found the surroundings to be pleasant enough. Just imagine a much larger Met Lounge. I had given the heads-up to an old high school classmate, Mike Eul, a trumpet player too, and was delighted to see him there in a party of three.
When we saw the stage all set up for the band, we felt an adrenalin rush like what we experienced when arriving at the old St. Paul Prom Ballroom for a Ferguson concert.
Just in case the music would be real loud, we sat along a bar counter a healthy distance from the stage.
This trumpet summit included Eric Miyashiro, who can deliver a sound much like Maynard Ferguson (RIP) himself. Or Chase. And it was Miyashiro's sound that we heard first as this reunion concert began. He played alone as the intro to "Open Up Wide." Pretty soon all the trumpet players were in action. The sound was totally loyal to the original group sound and the spirit behind it.
We could watch TV screens that had continuous live coverage of the bridge collapse. But the music went on.
The nostalgia really set in when vocalist G.G. Shinn joined in. Shinn has a singing voice that typified a whole breed of jazz-rock singers inspired by the group Blood, Sweat and Tears. Kenny Rogers fit right in. These singers sounded restless and energized with their sometimes gravelly intonations.
Shinn started in on the "Aphrodite" section of the mythology concept piece (from "Ennea") and it was spellbinding
Today Shinn operates a nightclub in Louisiana. I hope the oil spill hasn't dimmed his fortunes.
One by one the Chase reunion group played tunes from the all-too-brief heyday of "Chase."
The evening ended with the climactic "Get It On."
It would have been a joyous night had the bridge tragedy not cast a pall. In the back of my mind was the creepy feeling that this reunion concert for a band leader whose life ended so violently and suddenly, coincided with the bridge collapse. But it's foolish to believe in a hex.
I thought of my own mortality as I realized the odds weren't that far-fetched for Del and me to have crossed that bridge at the fateful time. Perhaps we would have gone down, survived and then performed some heroic act that would have gotten us on the Larry King show. (We're into a little levity here.)
Reportedly there is another Chase reunion event, "Chase Revisited II," planned for Boston, MA. We hope the sound lives on.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly 73@yahoo.com

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