Allan Chase

Jazz Saxophonist, Composer, Educator

A MUSICAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

PART 2: 1980 - 2018...

For Part 1: 1956-80, click here: www.allanchase.com/musical-autobiography

BOSTON: STUDYING AT NEC, TEACHING AT BERKLEE, PLAYING IN YNSQ

Having briefly moved to Philadelphia in summer 1979, and returned to Phoenix in October 1979, I moved to Boston in July 1980 to attend New England Conservatory of Music. I had applied to Eastman and NEC, and visited them both in February 1980. Rochester NY was 5° F. and windy when I was there, and I wasn’t excited about living there, although the program, faculty, and students were great. I was wait-listed, which they told me at the audition was partly due to playing zero clarinet and not great flute, and not having my prepared jazz pieces memorized (naïve of me); and I’m sure the competition was excellent, too. I had also applied by tape and been accepted to study with Jean-Marie Londeix at the Bordeaux Conservatory, but not speaking a word of French and not being sure I wanted a classical saxophone career, I turned that down. I wrote to Dave Liebman, who had been a visiting artist at least twice at ASU, about lessons in San Francisco, where he was living, but he said he might not stay there long, and recommended I study with his teacher, Joe Allard, in New York or Boston to help me open up my sound.

When I visited NEC, I heard a clinic by Chuck Israels where two excellent alto sax students, Matt Darriau and Ed Jackson, played. They each had unique, mature, personal, hip sounds and articulation, better than any student alto player I knew. I asked them who they studied with and both said Joe Allard. I commented on how different they sounded from one another, and they said “Joe helps you find your own sound, he doesn’t make everyone sound the same.” That confirmed Dave Liebman’s recommendation for me, and my CMS friend Janet Grice said the same, as did Jim Hartog and others she introduced me to. I was also excited to study with Jaki Byard, who seemed like the ideal, complete jazz musician to me.

In 1980-81, I completed a year of part-time graduate study in jazz performance, arranging, and music theory at NEC, where I studied saxophone with Joe Allard, played lead alto in a big band under Pat Hollenbeck and George Russell, and studied big band arranging for two semesters with Hollenbeck and 20th century music theory with Gerald Zaritzky and Shirish Korde.

Joe Allard’s private teaching was extremely helpful and I attribute much of my ability to express myself and enjoy playing the saxophone to him. I’ll write about the details on my Jazz Pedagogy blog sometime, and I’ve contributed to Allard website and Facebook group on this, but basically, he taught me to identify and release unnecessary tension, balance finding a center for my embouchure with flexibility of mouthpiece positions, and use air efficiently, from breathing muscles to tongue position. We worked almost exclusively on air, body, and sound. I had already had a pretty thorough and rigorous training from my years with Joe Wytko in other aspects of technique, although those, too, are lifelong pursuits I work on almost every day, 40 years later.

Fellow students and recent graduates I played with at and around NEC were Jamie Baum (flute), Janet Grice (bassoon), Joe Berkovitz (piano), Ed Felson (bass), Joe Link (drums), Steve Johns (drums), George Schuller (drums), Peck Allmond (trumpet), Jaques Morelenbaum (cello), Bob Elkjer (trumpet and arranging), Matt Darriau (alto sax), and Nancy Shallman (Yourke) (voice). Don Byron (clarinet) was a student in Third Stream at the time, and I knew him but didn’t play with him. NEC had two big bands, Medium Rare, which was the more established, top band with few new students (Matt Darriau and Ed Jackson were the alto players), and the Afro-American studies band, which I was in. The sax section was mostly new grad students: me, Michael Brockman (2nd alto),  Randy Nielsen, Debbie Keefe, and/or Mike Moss (tenor sax), and Janis Steprans (baritone sax), all excellent players who are still involved in jazz professionally and as educators. Ingrid Monson, now Quincy Jones Professor of African-American Music at Harvard and an important jazz researcher and author, played trumpet in the band. I stayed in touch with the NEC scene through the mid-80s and often played with people doing graduate or transfer study there after I left, like Bruce Barth, Bruno Råberg, Adam Kolker, Ben Sher, Carl Stormer, Dan Greenspan, Joe Fitzgerald, etc., subbing in the big band Orange then Blue and in various small groups.

Many aspects of the NEC jazz program at the time were a bit chaotic and unsupervised. There was much changing of department chairs from the late ‘70s to 1986 -- between Carl Atkins and Hankus Netsky’s ten-year chairmanships -- sometimes in mid-semester. The chair ca. 1979-81, William Thomas (Tom) McKinley, who was a prolific composer and jazz pianist teaching a huge number of hours of private lessons, was soon to be replaced by Pat Hollenbeck, a relatively recent graduate and brilliant percussionist and arranger/orchestrator only a year older than me, who was a good organizer. (He’s now president of the Boston musician’s union.) When I flew to Boston to visit NEC in February 1980, Tom had forgotten our appointment and double-booked it with lessons, so I ended up sitting outside his office for hours, waiting, and only talking to him briefly in the hallway. Jim Hartog and Jamie Baum kindly showed me around the school and I visited Joe Maneri’s class.

When I got to NEC in September 1980, my fellow students were great, and I got a lot from my lessons and Pat Hollenbeck’s arranging class and big band. On the other hand, there was a lot of administrative confusion about other classes, small ensembles weren’t fully organized, and I paid ($1250?) for and took a course called Jazz Improvisation with Jaki Byard that consisted of one brief class meeting where we were divided into four quartets and assigned to separate rooms. Our quartet played (without a teacher) for two hours once a week in those rooms; I think Hill Greene was the bassist. I saw Jaki one more time that semester, when he gave a thumbs up through the window. I don’t really blame Jaki personally for organizing the “course” this way; he was a beautiful person and wonderful teacher who was going through a very difficult time that year and was about to leave NEC, but no one seemed to know or care that this course wasn’t happening. I bugged Jaki, late in the school year, for one private lesson -- which was also double-booked (Debbie Keefe kindly allowed me to crash her lesson). The lesson consisted of playing first with Debbie, Jaki and me, then duets of me and Jaki, partly flipping through the Real Book, ending with a medium tempo “Giant Steps.” Jaki turned and said, “OK, you can play. What do you want?” I said I wanted to learn more advanced harmony, how to use dissonance, how to go beyond basic competent playing on tunes. He said (roughly), “I don’t teach that kind of thing. Just use your ears.” As it turned out, that was actually my last private lesson in jazz improvisation. I later learned that Jaki did have valuable, detailed handouts for pianists on voicings and other things I could have benefited from, but that was the only direct interaction with Jaki I ever had until sharing the bill on a concert many years later. I still admire him as one of the greatest musicians, but the timing was not right for lessons with him.

I do remember valuable clinics by Jimmy Giuffre (a faculty member who I later wished I had studied with) and guest artists Dave Liebman and Roswell Rudd, and, again, the students were great, as players and singers and as a community. But I had already made my connections with them. My money had run out and I was working an office job at B.U., publishing a magazine reviewing children’s science books, all that year to cover basic expenses. I couldn’t see borrowing over $10,000 (something no one in my family had ever done for college) to complete the MM degree, and it wasn’t clear what the benefits of doing so would be. (The department’s level of organization went up and down a bit. After Pat Hollenbeck, Miroslav Vitous was chair. During some of these years, graduate students Mark White and Nancy Kennedy effectively kept the ensembles and auditions and things running. Hankus Netsky was brought in, first on a temporary basis but eventually for ten years, and made many improvements to the program and faculty from 1986 to 1996, when I became the next chair – see below.)