By Robin Alberti
Sadly, a local music legend is sailing off into the sunset, literally. Frank Chase, minus a possible future guest appearance, will be playing his last few gigs in Killington this week. He has taken a cruise ship job in Oregon for the summer and next winter will be sailing the “Mississippi” out of New Orleans. He will be playing on the American Empress which describes itself as “Uniquely American River Cruises.” Well, that’s a perfect fit because Chase is a unique individual and I mean that with the utmost respect. He’s one of the best acts this town has ever seen and I’m sad to see him go. His final farewell to Killington will be Wednesday and Thursday, March 23 and 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Foundry with his duo partner Smokin’ J; at the Summit Lodge Saturday, March 26 at 8:30 p.m.; and lastly, brunch at the Foundry on Easter Sunday, March 27 at 11 a.m.
Frank Chase is a piano man and just like Billy Joel says, “You’ve got us feelin’ alright.” Chase has been making folks in Killington feel alright since October 1979 when the late, great Bob “Tuna” Evans first brought him to town to play at the Mountain Inn. Chase was working with the Robert Howe Agency out of New York City and they booked piano bar players. Tuna called the agency and they sent Chase. He played there for nine seasons, plus a year at Mother Shapiro’s and two years at the Grist Mill. Back in the 80s, Chase made an original album that I used to look at every day in the Wobbly Barn DJ booth. It’s a really cool and unique album cover—a picture of Chase playing a burning piano. He got an old upright piano and literally torched it across the street from the Mountain Inn.
Chase says he will miss all the great people he has worked with: the waitresses, the bartenders and the pretty dogs at the Summit. Speaking of bartenders—and like the “Piano Man” lyric “John at the bar is a friend of mine,”—he spoke very highly of John Durney who he works with on Saturday nights at the Summit. “This is the first year I worked with John and he’s been like a brother to me. I really enjoy working with him. He has a different style than most but more to my liking then some others.”
Chase really likes the duo he formed— Chase and Smokin’ J. (Smokin’ J, aka Terry J from local radio station WJJR and the drummer for Blue Jay Way). Chase decided he wanted to do something midweek, so he and Terry J gave it a shot and it worked. Chase says, “It’s great working with him because he knows everything I’m going to do. We hadn’t even had a rehearsal. I just called out to him and he was there.” Chase plays many parody cover tunes and one of my favorites is “Where’s the bathroom? On the right,” which is a take on “Bad Moon Rising.” There are some local musicians like Jamie Livesey who have been playing Chase’s parody tunes for years.
Chase’s first piano bar gig was at the Black Stallion Cafe in North Haven, Conn. when he was 15. (Chase and I share a weird coincidence because my first DJ gig was also at a bar in North Haven, Conn.). He was in a teenage band for a while, then played a Hammond B3 in a “really bad” Top 40 band for a year; then decided he was done with that and went strictly to being a piano bar player. He was 18 at the time and has been doing it ever since, which is 44 years.
Chase has played all over the world and has some favorite spots. “I liked working in Amsterdam. I enjoyed a little club I played in San Francisco… Vail was amazing— I liked that job a lot. And my own place, it was the Chase Lounge at the Mountain Inn. They renamed the lounge after me, which I thought was quite nice. My first European gig was in 1991 and remember it as the worst one. I started with the worst and worked my way up.” He has really enjoyed his time in Killington and describes the town as “A lot of music with skiing on top.”
Chase has many musical influences. He likes the great ragtime players from Scott Joplin all the way up to Dr. John. He also likes Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. “I play an older style, it’s called Stride Piano, which is full left hand.” There are also a lot of boogie-woogie players he likes.
Chase always wanted to play in New Orleans, and that’s why he got into piano. He fulfilled his dream in 1984 when he played on Bourbon Street. He played there on and off, sometimes for a year or sometimes for a month, at the Famous Door as well as Lucky Pierre’s, a famous piano bar back then. He also played around the French Quarter. Chase said, “I used to finish up at 6 in the morning and then I’d go play for an hour at another club and sit in with a band. That was fun.”
Chase likes playing a certain style and tries to do it as much as he can. It’s a preservation of an American style of piano that nobody does anymore, and he said the riverboat is perfect for that. He can play from ragtime to Dixieland and jazz all the way to New Orleans modern. He basically plays what feels right to him, and takes requests, too. He says, “I like the fact that I play old and new music but I just put in so much more.”
Chase never knows when he’ll hang up the piano for good, if ever.
He said, “Every time I think it’s about time, I find a new path. This riverboat gig came up and I’ve wanted to play on them. I worked on some in 2006-2007 but the company went out of business. I never thought I’d see them again. This company bought the “American Queen” on the Mississippi but they didn’t hire me right away. They had two players already. Then the one in Oregon hired me two years ago and rehired me for this season coming up. I’m more than happy to do that job. My home will always be New Orleans, but because of Katrina, I haven’t gone back since. That was my real musical spirit home, playing on Bourbon Street and off Bourbon Street. I miss it always. But after Katrina forced the issue, I ended up playing on riverboats and it worked out.” Well, come December, Chase will be going “home.”
If you have never seen Chase play, this is your last chance, and trust me, it’s a show you’ll never forget. If you have seen Chase play, go see him one last time. I know where I’ll be on Saturday night!
Chase has one bit of advice for people who come to see him play: “For people that come to hear music, please put down the cell phones and tablets and pay attention more.”
John Durney says, “Well, the end is near! The end of an era here at the Summit Lodge and Killington Resort for our great friend, ‘Professor Frank Chase.’ This will be his last show until some guest appearance hopefully to spread the love! Please stop on by to say goodbye and wish him luck in his new adventures. He will be hitting the ivory at 8:30 but will be at the bar early to share crazy stories!”
“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man. Sing us a song tonight. Well we’re all in the mood for a melody and you got us feeling alright.” — Billy Joel
Come out and feel alright one last time.