Childhood friend Arthur Kell, who I recently interviewed, recalls Thomas playing flute proficiently at age 9. While other kids were swinging on the jungle gym, Thomas was swinging on his flute. He discover the sax in high school and went on to college to outplay everyone and to ascend to a professional career at age 24 when he began playing and traveling with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. And by age 30, he had formed his own trio, which immediately started playing on the big stages of jazz festivals in the U.S. and abroad. (For a complete timeline of Thomas' music career, go to http://thomaschapin.com/bio-music-timeline)
The word "unique" is also often used to describe Thomas. (A word I feel is inadequate in all ways and in reference to everything and everyone. Just not specific enough). So let's let music writer Bob Blumenthal of the Boston Globe tell us in his words about Thomas' "uniqueness":
Affirmation, honesty, passion, risk, the coherence of successful collective enterprise; all of the things we expect from the strongest and most lasting jazz permeated the music of Thomas Chapin. In every note he played – and most certainly between September 1989 (when the Thomas Chapin trio featured in this collection played its first engagement) until the leukemia that took Chapin’s life on February 13, 1998 interrupted his ascendance – Chapin was a study in the testing and exceeding of limits. In every live set and on every recording, he plunged headlong into the musical abyss and responsed with a driven yet upbeat concept that held humor, cataclysm and contemplation in rare equilibrium. The sound tapestries that resulted – solidly rooted in a tradition Chapin knew intimately, yet straining that tradition’s boundaries at every turn – were both lucid and combustible. They remain just as inspiring now that Chapin is gone.
Thomas was Hampton's lead alto sax-flautist and also Hamp's musical director for 6 years, right out of college, right out of Rutgers University's jazz program. In another blog, I will let Jerry Weldon, college roommate of Thomas and band mate in the Hampton band, tell you about Thomas' days with Hamp.
With Hamp, Thomas toured Europe, Japan, Mexico, South America and U.S.
Festivals, including Kool Jazz (USA), Newport Jazz Festival (RI), Nice Jazz Festival (France), North Sea Jazz Festival (The Hague, Holland), Aurex Jazz Festival (Japan), etc.,
It's only a sample of Thomas' playing, but here is a video recording of a Hamp concert in Brazil. This YouTube video captures Thomas doing a 30 second solo. To watch his solo, go to 1:47 sec.