“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’ve got us feeling alright”
Frank 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 and also played a year at Mother Shapiros and two years at the Grist Mill. Back in the 80s, Chase made an original album which I used to look at every day in the Wobbly Barn DJ booth. It’s a really cool and unique album cover because it’s a picture of Chase playing a burning piano; he got an old upright piano and torched it across the street from the Mountain Inn.
You can catch Chase playing solo at the Foundry every Sunday for brunch from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and every Wednesday and Thursday from 5 – 9 p.m. with his partner Smokin’ J. Smokin’ J is 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 haven’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.
You can also catch Chase playing in the Saints Pub at the Summit Lodge every Friday and Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17 is Fat Tuesday, and Chase and Smokin’ J will be doing a special Mardi Gras show at 5 p.m. at the Foundry.
Chase’s first piano bar gig was at the Black Stallion Cafe in North Haven, Conn. when he was fifteen. (Chase and I share a weird coincidence because my first DJ gig was also at a bar in North Haven, Conn.) Chase 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 eighteen at the time and has been doing it ever since, which is 43 years. Chase now spends his summers aboard a paddle wheel boat that operates out of Oregon. He does that from April through October and is on it seven days a week.
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; I played there for a while. 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 was the worst one. I started with the worst and worked my way up.”
Chase has many musical influences. He likes the great rag time 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, 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 for quite a while, sometimes for a year or sometimes for a month. He played at the Famous Door and also at Lucky Pierre’s, a famous piano bar back then. He also played around the French Quarter. Chase said, “I used to finish up at six 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 can basically play what feels right to him, and he takes requests, too.
I asked Chase if there is any end in sight for him. He said, “I think I got another good year in me, maybe. I don’t know for sure. 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 last year 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.”