Groove Merchant: Tommy Chase

Groove Mercahnt cover

This late 1980’s album is a gem that I bought when it was first released. 40 year old Tommy Chase was an experienced bandleader who worked with younger musicians and harnessed their energies to create an outfit who were at the forefront of the 80’s resurgence in modern jazz. They played hard bop to a younger audience who were only too ready to respond on the dance floor. Sadly, even by the time this came out, many of the great modern jazz originators had died, were no longer active or had moved on to play in different styles, but at least Tommy and co were there for us.

The Message is an engaging hard bop number that was penned by Nick Weldon, a former member of the band who is now a distinguished jazz educator. I was briefly in the same running club as NW and recall accompanying him on a couple of long training sessions. Unfortunately, I can’t remember picking his brains about jazz though. It’s a bit of a desperate effort to say something new, I know, but I can say with great confidence that nobody ever posted about marathon training with Thelonius Monk. Nick Weldon’s web site can be viewed by clicking here.

Double Secret is a Tommy Chase original. It has a sinuous, slinky opening that is very inviting and leads on to the cover of a jazz standard that follows.

Killer Joe is a Benny Golson composition, which is taken at a brisk, mid-paced tempo, with the fluent saxophone of Kevin Flanagan to the fore. We can listen in to Killer Joe courtesy Frank Chickens at YouTube

To listen click on or touch the arrow.

Kevin Flanagan is also a jazz educator these days, another saxophonist, like the late Yusef Latiff, who has earned a doctorate. He has a website here. Kevin has had a look at this post and let me know that this line up of the band feature in ‘Ten Days that Shook Soho’ a film about the first Soho Jazz Festival in 1987, which can be seen here:

Kevin has a new album out and although he was quick to say that it is not quite the same thing as most of the music I have written about to date, I will be having a listen and reporting back here in due course. It’s all well and good to write about past greats but it is also really important to encourage the music to move forward.

Although A Night in Tunisia invites comparisons with other more well known recordings, I’ll not make them here as I can say briefly it is not the best version I’ve ever heard- a bit too fast and frenetic for my taste.

Groove Merchant is a great soul jazz tune. That Baptist beat just makes me want to dance (twice this morning). Move over IDJ (famed London Jazz hoofers) and gimme some space there! Listen to this and you’ll be soul clapping on the off beat, as a certain much heard Billy Taylor tune is Groove Merchant’s cousin.

So Tired offers an opportunity for a fast samba shuffle and plenty of scope for Mark Edwards on piano, while Alfie’s Theme Is a straightforward take on the Sonny Rollins tune. Get Rich Quick is the sort of tune that conjures up 1960’s New York City for me- I never went there in the 60’s so I suppose I am linking it to scene setting film or TV music of the time.

The closing track, Sunset Eyes, is an opportunity for Tommy Chase to stretch out and show his talent. I can picture his controlled and seemingly effortless posture- almost as though there is no point in making hard work actually look like hard work.

Some purists may possibly dislike this set. They may feel that the music has been performed better by others (although they may want to reflect on the fact that the set contains a balance of fresh compositions and standards). I never saw The Jazz Messengers at their best, but I’m very pleased that I saw Tommy Chase play storming sets to appreciative audiences on four or five occasions. I’m also delighted that I’ve got my original CD on Stiff Records (Seez 66), which is apparently quite hard to come by for under £50 these days. If you haven’t got it, check it out and enjoy.

I’m determined to see more live jazz and if anyone reading here can recommend any bands that are as exciting as Tommy Chase’s were, please let us know.

The band etc: Tommy Chase (drums); Mark Edwards (piano); Kevin Flanagan(saxophone); Martin Klute (bass). Stiff SEEZ 66. Recorded in 1987. Production by Trevor Horn (though no studio data on CD sleeve). Cover painting Bruce McLean

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4 thoughts on “Groove Merchant: Tommy Chase

  1. This post made me smile with happy memories. Back in the 80s I too attended a lot of Tommy Chase gigs. Tommy wasn't everybody's cup of tea - he could be pretty forthright in his opinions and not afraid to express them but he truly loved the music and was very dedicated to it. I saw the line-up that recorded Groove Merchant several times but I actually got to know Tommy and the band a bit better when Adrian Uttley was on guitar and Gary Baldwin was on organ. I recall one time interviewing them for student radio and spending an afternoon with the band. They told some fantastic stories and one by Gary about waking up early one morning to find a couple of guys trying to steal his Hammond has lived long in my memory.

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    1. Thanks very much for the comment. I last saw Tommy Chase perform when the band were supporting Jimmy Smith at The Town and Country in Kentish a Town in July 1989. They played a great set and the word was that Tommy's Hammond organist was so hot that Jimmy Smith feigned injury. I remember him playing in a plaster cast that night- but I understand that his arm injury was real enough and had plagued him for much of that year. I had also heard that Tommy Chase doesn't, let us say, suffer fools gladly

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