I offer this as a remembrance of clarinetist Frank Chace, one of the most elusive of men.  He and I had perhaps ten phone conversations and a dozen conversations-by-mail at the end of the last century, continuing into 2003 or so. At first, I think Frank was flattered by my interest, intrigued by someone so curious, so intent, but soon he retreated back in to the shadows.  I can remember the odd feeling of telephoning him on an early Sunday evening and hearing the phone ring on.  I picture him waiting for it to stop ringing.

But he did respond to my hero-worshiping curiosity in whimsical ways.  A cassette he had mentioned, a concert recording of himself with Marty Grosz and Dan Shapera — something he thought he had lost but surfaced unexpectedly — came to me in an envelope, with a few words handwritten on a scrap of paper torn from the back of an envelope.

Earlier, I’d asked him for a picture (don’t all fans do this?) and he’d sent a newspaper clipping with a dim photograph of him as one tiny figure in a band. Then this — his expired bus pass, with Frank staring in to the camera in that fixed pose we all assume for drivers’ license photographs.

I treasure it as an artifact even more because of the whimsy behind it. I’d rather have this than a studio portrait of Frank wearing a striped vest and a straw boater.  I carry it in my wallet, which will certainly confuse someone who goes through my belongings posthumously. (“When was Michael riding buses in Chicago? That’s such a bad picture — it looks nothing like him.”)

Frank’s elusiveness, his desire to be left alone, had something to do with his learned disdain of the modern world, with the political landscape, with the ungrammatical announcer on Monday Night Football, with the bad jazz he heard on the radio.  But it was also a state of mind he treasured. He was happy when I told him that a working title for my biographical piece would be THE J.D. SALINGER OF THE CLARINET.  (But, like Salinger, although he wanted to be left alone, I do not think he wanted to be forgotten.)

But every now and then the vault door opens for a moment and something precious can be glimpsed before the door closes again.  Frank’s friend, protector, and executor, the jazz scholar Terence E. Martin (“Terry” to friends) shot some 8mm film of Frank — and friends Bob Neighbor, trumpet; Mike Walbridge, tuba; Don Stiernberg, banjo; and Rich Fidoli, saxophone — at a gig that may have been Mike’s retirement-home gig, the date and place unknown at the moment.  But here is a minute of Frank in action among friends:

I find this more than remarkable — impassioned and perfectly controlled, brave and searching.  Terry tells me that there are other minutes of Frank, but for now I savor this brief intense sighting. It is like nothing else I know. There is the sound — and even more, his physical presence . . . especially the half-embrace he gives himself and the clarinet at the end, a rare moment of pleasure he allowed himself. And us, for all time.

May your happiness increase!


  1. Mike – Our first contact was through the medium of Frank Chace’s music. You’ll recall that I reached out to you after you posted something about him, and I, as a longtime fan from outside Frank’s geographical area of influence, had found a single 78rpm test pressing with a remarkable clarinetist whose name was otherwise unknown to me. You suggested that I buy a CD on which he played, and you were so encouraging, in fact, that you offered to pay for it yourself if it turned out that I didn’t like it. Of course it was great, but your kind offer made the entire experience even that much better. Thanks for posting today’s additional Chace material, and here’s to you, Mike, for being such a mensch. Jazz lives through you, buddy, and the happiness of others increases because of your own.

    Yeah, I know, you’re humble and self-effacing and not entirely comfortable with permitting this praise to post. Please do it anyway, your other readers will enjoy it that I said what they’d probably say themselves.

    Jon Z

  2. robert teegarden

    I’m not positive this will work, but at the end of the Frank Chace short thingie (Chace reminds me of Woody, but Woody was better), there’s another thingie with Bobby Hackett playing “jitterbug waltz”, one of my favorites >

  3. Andrew J. Sammut

    We are all entitled to occasional disdain for the modern world, and lucky for the experiences and remembrances that snap us out of it. Thank you for sharing this one.

  4. I have an idea that if you were writing about scrubbing pots with Brillo pads, I would love to read it. I love to read everything i can find that you have written! So when can I start reading your novel? C’mon! have you started it yet? I would be glad to be your first critic reader! I promise to make an effort to be cogent, erudite and even somewhat humorous in my reviews.

  5. Pingback: “FRANK CHACE, 1964,” TWICE | JAZZ LIVES

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