Litchfield Jazz Festival Honors Connecticut Jazz Legend Thomas Chapin

Aug 6, 2015

"He kept coming back, he loved playing with the guys here in Connecticut."
Stephanie Castillo

The Litchfield Jazz festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend. Friday's opening night will include a special tribute to Connecticut jazz legend Thomas Chapin, who died of leukemia in 1941.

The composer and multi-instrumentalist Thomas grew up in Manchester and later studied alto saxophone with the legendary Jackie McLean at the Hartt school. Chapin's career took him all over the world, first with Lionel Hampton's big band and later with his own trio, but he never forgot his Connecticut roots.

"He kept coming back, he loved playing with the guys here in Connecticut," said documentary filmmaker, and Chapin's sister-in-law Stephanie Castillo, who is working on a documentary about Chapin. "And I think also in Connecticut, you see that straight ahead jazz side of him more."

"He played with so much energy," said Bass player Mario Pavone, who said he was blown away the first time he heard Thomas Chapin play, a 1980 breakout performance in Bushnell Park. "He was just amazing, he just got up and put so much information and emotion into each chorus of the piece as a normal player puts in two choruses. It was just concentrated, and emotional, and brilliant."

Pavone would later join Chapin in the Thomas Chapin Trio, an ensemble that jazz trombonist Peter McEachern said reflected Chapin's versatility and knowledge of both traditional and avant-garde jazz.

"I was just knocked out when I heard it," said McEachern, "because it sounded like a big band and it was only three people. I couldn't believe how big the sound was, and I knew that he had hit on something when I first heard that."

Tragically, Chapin died of leukemia in 1998 at the age of 41.

On Friday night, the Litchfield Jazz Festival pays tribute to Chapin's legacy with a performance of his compositions played by many of his jazz- playing friends. To see the entire lineup for the weekend, go to litchfieldjazzfest.com.