Clarinetist Frank Chace stood very still when he played, his eyes closed. In the fashion of the true mystic, he looked inwards, seeking something new, beautiful, personal. His own speech, his own pathways.
A Chace solo winds around the melody and the chords, hesitant but guided by its own self-trust: “I don’t know the way but I know where I’m going.”
He didn’t record enough for any of us, and often he seemed to be making his way through his fellow players — yearning to break free. When he was playing alongside his great friends Don Ewell or Marty Grosz, he knew that they would supply an indefatigable rhythmic pulse, they would lay down the right chords, and he could then soar.
And soar he did.
In 1985, when I had only recently encountered the mysterious, elliptical Chace universe, Jazzology Records issued a record of a live session led by pianist Butch Thompson. I thought it remarkable that here was a new Frank Chace record: it remains a treasure. Charlie DeVore, cornet, John Otto, clarinet, alto sax, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Jack Meilahn, guitar; Bill Evans, bass, were the other fellows on the stand. And the session was full of delights, aside from Frank: Hal’s press rolls and shimmering hi-hat; the solid rhythm section; Otto’s sweet, thoughtful alto; De Vore’s Muggy Spanier-emphases. But Frank Chace produces marvel after marvel.
Hear him chart his own paths, his eyes closed, his only goal to create his own speech. Frank was rarely — if ever — satisfied with something he had recorded, so I can’t say that he was complacently pleased with this or any other disc. About an early session with the Salty Dogs, he told me, “I was fighting for my life!” But no strain can be heard here: just beauty, impassioned or quietly subversive.
Now, the complete session (offering twenty-four selections) is available on a double-CD Jazzology set. (JCD 373/374), available at a variety of online sources. I can’t praise it highly enough.
The selections are I FOUND A NEW BABY / ROSE ROOM / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / ONE HOUR / JAZZ BAND BALL / IDA / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET LORRAINE / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / HOME / JELLY ROLL / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / FROM MONDAY ON / S’POSIN’ / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS / THANKS A MILLION.
Frank doesn’t make an obsession out of being “untraditional,” but he won’t play the expected lines, the predictable harmonies. You might think you know where his next phrase is going . . . but it turns out that he has led us in his own way, eyes closed, finding new surprises.
Listen to his ardor, his courage, his whimsical explorations.
“THANKS A MILLION”: CLICK HERE. ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!