Today reminds me that Bill Chase was killed in a plane crash 41 years ago. Bill was the great lead trumpet player with Woody Herman and others, and the leader of the rock group, Chase. I’ll never forget hearing the news that day and thinking about what a tragic loss to the trumpet world. His rock group was just getting famous and he was becoming as popular as Maynard Ferguson with the younger crowd. After his death, Maynard had the place to himself as he toured and played at college campuses.
Every band and DCI group played “Get It On” at some point, which was the hit tune by Chase. It’s the last time we have heard a great rock band with four trumpets who play the lead. There will probably never be another group like this again. Trumpets in rock bands are rare, anyway.
I’ve include two tunes in the video, that showcase Bill’s playing and writing. Bill played lead with Woody, and wrote tunes that featured the trumpet section and himself. You can hear the beginnings of Chase when you listen to some of the Woody Herman recordings.
When the Woody Herman band was winning best band awards in 1963 it’s no accident Bill was playing lead. He had an energy that propelled the band like no other. Woody used his trumpet section like a firing squad and the band had the power of an explosion when they let it loose. I never heard Bill play live with the band, and it’s my loss. I was just too young to be able to go hear them.
I did hear Chase live in Fort Worth at Haltom High School six months before the plane crash that killed Bill and half of the band. The book was so hard to play every night that I wondered how Bill would be able to continue at that pace as he got older. Maynard could do it, but could Bill? Most trumpet players could not handle a book like that night after night.
Bill started as a classical trumpet player in life until, in 1951, he went to hear a Stan Kenton concert. Maynard was still playing the featured trumpet chair in Kenton’s band and from that night on Bill wanted to play like Maynard Ferguson. Everyone always remembers the first time they hear Maynard play live! But it changed Bill’s life forever.
Bill even went on to play lead in Maynard’s band and in Kenton’s years later before making his name in the Woody Herman band. I heard that he even got fired from Maynard’s band because he couldn’t play high enough, so he changed equipment, worked harder at it, and emerged as a great lead player with Woody a few years later.
Every musician who has ever played has been influenced by someone before them. You can hear Maynard when you hear Bill Chase play, and Maynard was influenced by those before him like Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Harry James, Bunny Berigan, etc. It’s all connected in the evolution of music. Bill Chase was a part of that evolution until he was taken from us on August 9, 1974.
The only other noteworthy news that day in August of 1974 was that Richard Nixon resigned. That made all the headlines, but in my heart, losing Bill Chase was the real story. We can replace a President, but I haven’t heard another player just like Bill Chase, or a group like Chase, yet.
The Woody Herman song in the video is “El Toro Grande”; the Chase tune is “Swanee River”.