"Answer the phone, Dartanyan"
As I said in the previous post, I was living in a house in Des Moines that had a large rehearsal space which made it a hub for a lot of musical activity. This was late 1972 early 1973 and it was a particularly exciting time for music.
Thanks again to Kevin Seeley ( http://www.seeleymusic.com/chase/index.htm )for his hard work and persistence over the years in keeping Bill's memory alive. You're reward is coming Kevin!
Another nice thing about my residence was that it was across the parking lot from a popular night club/roadhouse called the 505 Club. Owned and managed by Dick Kampus, a large and hearty man with a real lust for throwing a party, The "5" was the classic edge-of-town out in the county-type place which even the local police didn't mess with too much because it was that rough.
Over the years, we saw lots of different groups there. Funky horn groups like the Flippers, singer Marvin Spencer and lots of groups from Kansas, Florida, Louisiana and elsewhere. The list of bands that toured the roadhouse circuit to carve out a career is long. Before I happened to run into Chase, however, I was home one day when the phone rang...
I picked it up. " Hello" , I said.
"Hey Dart" said the excited voice on the other end, "Get your ass over here now and see this...!" I recognized the voice as Dick's from across the driveway at the 505.
"What are you talking about, man?" I queried.
"Just get over here NOW, you won't believe it."
He was right.
As I loped across the expanse of white gravel, I heard through the walls of the club the rhythmic thud of bass guitar and drums but as I got closer to the door, the syncopation was getting "too good" if you know what I mean (the players do). By the time I entered the cavernous club it only took another two or three minutes to realize that something special was happening on the stage--and this was just rehearsal.
The group rehearsing for the evening's show was Wayne Cochran and his band, the CC Riders. For those of you unfamiliar with the tradition, Wayne Cochran was a soul singer in the tradition of James Brown, but just like Pat Boone, Elvis Presley and the Osmonds, Cochran was a white version of a black innovator.
The cool thing about Wayne Cochran is that he, like Brown, is the real deal. He was a loud, signifyin'' funkified white boy who could drive an audience as well as any R&B veteran I ever saw. But I digress....
Cochran's energy came as much from his band as his own nasty soul and in this case, the band was being stoked by a young, tall skinny kid named Jaco. Yep, the original bass legend was playing in my home town and just like a private party in my backyard!
Jaco Pastorius was the heart of they rhythm section which also included guitarist Charlie Brent (ironically, Brent was/is a dynamite arranger who would contribute charts to Chase's Ennea album.)
Well, I watched my life flash before my eyes as I listened to Jaco creating a totally loose, but on-the-mark groove. They were actually playing "3 Views of a secret", (years before Jaco would record it on his own solo album.) His sensibilities for groove and support and melodic bass playing was strangely scary but at the same time an affirmation of where I knew the instrument could go.
After the rehearsal, I made a beeline for the stage and introduced myself to Jaco. Being an old newspaper reporter, I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to "interview" this guy to find out where he got his style from.
For the next 3 days, I was host to the Future Of Jazz Electric Bass at my house! Jaco stayed with us and we jammed, talked, went to the Cochran gig then jammed some more talked a lot more about life, our families, Miles, and why each of us had a lot to offer. I have never met a more honest, caring, sensitive and talented individual as Jaco Pastorius in 1972. The reason I am including this anecdote in my story about how I met Bill Chase is that the two events were really a one-two punch to my career as a musician and a human being.
Jaco was a natural musician who, told me about his father who played drums and toured and his Mom, Greta who he was totally devoted to. He already had a young family and it was his single-minded goal to support his family by convincing everyone that he was the world's greatest bass player! He was totally convinced of that fact (I certainly wasn't going to disagree from what I heard..) and he told me of his plans to leave Cochran soon and travel to Boston to join up with a new friend named Pat Metheny. Metheny, he said, offered him an opportunity to teach at Berklee College of Music in Boston. (Metheny, as you know, recorded the seminal "Bright Size Life" with Jaco and the two joined pianist Paul Bley and drummer Bruce Ditmas to record an even better album on Bley's improvising Artists label) Bill Milkowski's excellent but still-incomplete work on the life of Jaco Pastorius covers this part of the bass players life pretty well. Read it.
But did you know that Pat Metheny played guitar with Bill Chase? I'll leave this one hanging for any of you fans out there willing to email me with the answer to this question. When did Pat Metheny play with Bill Chase??
Anyway, I spent three fairly private days with Jaco and we had what could only be termed as a meeting of kindred spirits. The next time I saw Jaco was in 1976 at the Newport Jazz Festival. By then he was with Weather Report and a true star. The funny thing was, when I saw him again, he actually spotted me at the back of a large auditorium (Alice Tully Hall, I think) as I was walking in for to see Weather Report's sound check.
From the stage, he saw me (barely visible I was) and yelled at the top of his lungs "Hey DARTANYAN, HOW YA DOIN'." It was a testament to his eyesight, his memory and his heart to actually remember our time together after HIS life had changed so radically.
One sad note: The Jaco I knew in 1972 was on a natural high of life. He played in some of the nastiest sin pits in the country but at that point in his life he never smoked, drank or talked about anything but the most inspiring subjects. His goal was to play with Miles Davis. Period. He knew he was good enough, musical enough and hip enough and that was that!
I never saw Jaco again after Newport. Every time news came in about him it was usually great professional triumph but leavened with the sad news of his descent into drug and alcohol abuse.
He told me in Des Moines that he had a chemical imbalance which meant his sensitive system could not tolerate stuff like cocaine, speed, heroin or any alcohol. Moving to NYC was probably the worst thing he could have done because the influences on him at that time were uniformly bad.
The musicians he hung out with in the Apple (both known and unknown) were into drugs and other bad habits and I believe that he was ultimately demoralized (and hence vulnerable) when he (as I heard but never confirmed) was rejected by Miles Davis. So much of Jaco's life was dedicated to reaching Miles that when he did meet--and was rejected--it was more than he could understand.
I personally can't listen to anything Jaco recorded after his stellar work with Joni Mitchell and Heavy Weather. I hear too much pain and not enough precision in his playing compared to the cat I knew who helped Wayne Cochran and the CC riders rock the house in '72. Bless you Jaco.
Back to Bill....
It was now spring '73 and, as I mentioned earlier, Tommy Gordon had already joined Chase through his connection with a group called the Fabulous Flippers. Former members of that group were touring with Bill doing the Ennea tour and so TG's connection from years earlier paid off. It was about to do the same for me.
I was in my kitchen making a sandwich when the phone rang.
I picked it up with my mouth half-full and and almost choked when the voice on the other end said. "Hello this is Bill Chase."
Needless to say, I was nervous and incredulous as he laid out his offer.
"I've been looking for a new bass player and Tommy says that you're a great bass player and a singer too." I didn't quite know what to say except to try to agree without sounding too egotistical (unlike my friend Jaco who would have had no problem promoting himself)
We have a tour due to start in El Paso, Texas in two weeks. Do you think you can make the gig? He asked me if I knew the music and I said that I knew the first album from listening but that was it. He said "no matter, we've got all the charts. (a word about those charts later...) I just said a little prayerof thanks that I was playing in the Drake University Jazz band with Bob Weast. Taking two semesters of Jazz Band gave me exactly the foundation I needed to read the charts I lived with for the next 17 months.
Talk about bittersweet....
I had just signed a lease with my friends in Des Moines to make our band house work and now was I going to leave town and the guys too?
Well, like all professionals, my partners, John Rowat, Michael Schomers, Frank Tribble and Bill Jacobs were more supportive of me moving up than they were at losing a renter so I was off to Chicago to begin what would be life-changing circumstances.
Time has scraped away the memories of actually leaving Des Moines but I do remember arriving at O'Hare Airport and being driven directly to the legendary Universal Studios on Rush St. where we began rehearsals for the gigs which would begin in a few scant days.
The time went fast. We worked like madmen, rehearsing for hours and then heading out into the Rush street night to dig who was playing at the Rush Up rock club or the Jazz Showcase where we saw George Benson, Eddie Jefferson, Bill Evans, and many other great artists.
Bill put the band up at the Maryland Hotel directly across the street from the Jazz Showcase and Rush Up. So here I was at 23 coming from sleepy little Des Moines and in a few scant days, I was playing with one of the best bands in the world and living in the heart of Chicago's music center. I WAS IN HEAVEN. You understand, don't you.
The wonderful thing about my situation was that Bill really was an understanding guy who wasn't really into showing you what a powerful boss he was. He treated me as an equal from the beginning and with old pros like Jerry Van Blair in the band, I learned pretty quickly about how to pace myself on the road.
I quickly realized that if I was going to keep up with 'Craze' (Bill's intra-band nickname) I had better learn how to stay up late, get up early, practice on the bus, or plane, or later station wagon) and learn to handle any bad habits you might have without letting it affect your performance.
I don't have to tell you about the energy involved in a Chase concert. All those stories you might have heard about sex and drugs and (jazz)rock 'n roll are generally true, but not if you let it interfere with your performance. Consequently, you learned how to 'party hardly" (spelling correct..)
Next time, I'll talk about the 'unknown' Chase bands.....
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