Travelling with Thomas

If you go by way of Laos and the U.S. East Coast, the journey from France to Yukon is anything but a straight line. But a brief reunion of two lifelong friends in Paris two summers ago proves you can get from there to here.

“We had a great time together, and I told him the Yukon is an amazing place to visit, and an amazing place for music,” de Colombel says. “I told him it would be awesome if he could one day just come up, and I could organize a few things, and we could play.”

Fitoussi’s response, he says, was immediate: “I’m 100 per cent. What about Thomas Chapin?”

It’s time for the U.S. leg of this convoluted journey.

Chapin was a hugely-respected avant-garde saxophonist, flautist and composer on the New York scene and abroad. He recorded at least 15 albums in his own name before dying of leukemia in 1998 at the age of 40.

“Romain is a big fan of Thomas Chapin. A few years ago, he said, ‘You should listen to this guy. It’s close to what you like in saxophone playing.’ So I did, and it’s true. It’s very inspiring,” de Colombel says.

Among other things, Chapin is the subject of a recent 90-minute documentary, Night Bird Song, named for one of his best-known compositions. It was directed by the late musician’s sister-in-law, Emmy-winning filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo.

“She was not really into jazz, but she realized that Thomas brought a lot to the jazz community, and created kind of this bridge between jazz tradition and jazz avant-garde, and he was doing it very well.”

Fitoussi’s own new trio, in turn, was featured on the documentary, which has already created a splash at film festivals in Europe and the U.S., as well as last month’s prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival.

After getting a green light from Duncan Sinclair at Jazz Yukon for a Chapin tribute with Fitoussi in the Jazz in the Hall series, de Columbel quickly recruited local pianist Daniel Janke, bassist Paul Bergman and drummer Lonnie Powell for the venture.

Starting with charts Fitoussi developed from Chapin’s live and studio performances, de Colombel urged his musical colleagues to provide their own take on the material.

“If we want to go faster or slower, or play different structures, we can. It’s just material to work with, not that we have to copy exactly the album version, because for me that is not very interesting.”

The Jazz in the Hall performance is Thursday, November 3 in the Old Fire Hall, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

It will feature five Chapin numbers, including “Sky Piece”, “Anima” and “Drunken Money”, as well as two of de Colombel’s own compositions.

One of those, “Seven Devils”, was inspired by yet one more of his recent bike trips, this one along the Oregon Coast. But that’s another story.

The Whitehorse performance, will be audio-recorded by Jim Holland of Green Needle Records, and will include projections of visual art by both Chapin and Bergman.

The Chapin project moves to Dawson City on Monday, Nov. 7, for a 7 p.m. screening of Night Bird Song at the Klondike Institute of Art and Music, and the quintet’s performance in the KIAC Ballroom at 8 p.m. on Nov. 10.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, there will be a free screening of the documentary at the Village Bakery in Haines Junction at 4 p.m., followed by the de Colombel/Fitoussi quintet show at 7 p.m. in the St. Elias Convention Centre.

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