My interviews with them ran between two to three hours, which I recorded on a little pocket video camera. The "real" filmming will happen next year. These recent interviews are important for shaping the script, for honing the story, for making decisions about the film's content.
I learned a tremendous amount, not just more intimate details about Thomas and how much he meant to the jazz scene back then, but what that scene was really like--a hot bed of aggressive improvisers exploring the music freely and a great, growing gathering of listeners who were excited by what they heard, and who wanted more!
I learned also what great colleagues, music business promoters, and friends Thomas was surrounded by, and how much they respected and admired him on so many levels. Whether charmed by his raucous laugh or his crazed adventures to collect sounds and music of all kinds, to all of them Thomas stood out as a brilliant composer and musician, but most of all a giant of a caring, decent human being.
Who did I interview? In the order of the interviews:
Ted Chapin, Thomas' older brother, who spoke about the family and their lives together in the early years of Thomas' life. He told me about how Thomas rebelled against his strict family upbringing and New England roots to find his true self.
Mario Pavone, the bassist in the Thomas Chapin Trio, who played with Thomas for more than seven years. He spoke about the tremendous energy that Thomas played with and how as a band leader Thomas was a "hard task master". "He was goin' somewhere fast."
Arthur Kell, who was Thomas' best friend since the two attended a prestigious prep school in Massachusetts. A bassist and traveler with Thomas to Africa. Arthur was the one who met a very sick Thomas in 1997 and put him on a plane for home, shortly after which Thomas was diagnosed with leukemia.
Bruce Gallanter, owner of Downtown Music Gallery in Manhattan that specializes in avant-garde music. He continues to push Thomas and his recordings because he believes in Thomas' legacy. He said though Thomas passed in 1998, his music lives and new jazz fans need to know about him.
Jerry Weldon, who played with Thomas in Lionel Hampton's big band. The two met as jazz students at Rutgers University and were roommates. Jerry's stories are colorful and full of hilarity; they called themselves Tom and Jerry.
John Phillips, retired from the jazz promotions scene, John produced the Newport Jazz Festivals and the 20 seasons of the show on PBS. He was the one responsible for putting Thomas and his trio on the Newport stage and the big jazz stages in Japan, Canada and Europe. He and Thomas were friends, and with John, Thomas shared his dreams for the future.
Michael Sarin, drummer of The Thomas Chapin Trio, who spoke about Thomas' love for world music and world culture. Thomas was a collector, said Michael, and wherever the trio went, the first thing Thomas wanted to do was to add to his varied collections be it money, record albums, native clothes, or instruments. "He was well-rounded and not all about playing jazz, though that was the biggest part of him."
Sam Kaufman, who became Thomas' manager towards the end of his life. The two were preparing to launch Thomas' newest CD and land a major record deal when things came to a halt when Thomas got very sick. Sam spoke of how Thomas was at his greatest heights of achievement with plenty more dreams ahead.
Marty Khan of Tucson, AZ, who helped Thomas with career planning as Thomas advanced towards an economically and not just artistically viable career. Steeped in jazz history and jazz giants, he heard Thomas' music and recognized its rarity for the era of jazz that was the 80's and 90's.
Nadar Nihal Singh, also of Tucson, and I met at the Phoenix airport international terminal for a few hours to talk about Thomas. Just returning from studying music in India for four months, he spoke about Thomas, who he had never met. Nadar Nihal claims Thomas is one of his great jazz heroes, whose music still inspires him. Several years ago, Nadar Nihal had given up his sax and pursuit of a career in jazz to deepen his spiritual path as a Sikh. But he told me that an email from me about starting my film project on Thomas inspired him to return to NYC and to pick up his sax again.
Paul Jeffrey, celebrated jazz master and tenor saxophonist, was mentor/teacher/friend to Thomas. We spoke by phone. Paul lives in Durham, NC where he had been Director of Duke University's jazz studies for over 25 years. Paul took Thomas on as a young student at Rutgers University and saw the gold in him. Paul talked of helping develop and guide Thomas' musical development, even speaking to Thomas' parents about the need to support their son.
During my ten days in NYC, I stayed in Jackson Hts., Queens at my sister's. Although I didn't "sit her down" for an interview, Terri Castillo Chapin, Thomas' widow and my younger sister, guided me to the key interviews above and talked of her Thomas and how beautiful a human being he was, and how people still love and miss him.
In my next blog, I will share how these interviewees responded to my question: DOES THOMAS CHAPIN DESERVE TO HAVE A FILM MADE ABOUT HIM?