Frank Chace, clarinet (1924-2007) Frank Chace was admired for his wild, expressive Chicago clarinet style in a lineage from Pee Wee Russell and Frank Teschemacher, with secondary influences of Johnny Dodds and Omer Simeon.
This page is a growing Frank Chace audio archive and photo gallery offering a large number of previously unpublished Chace performances of exceptional quality. Much came from the collection of the late Wayne Jones courtesy of Hal Smith: both skilled jazz drummers and longtime Frank Chace enthusiasts.
Most of Frank’s very few commercial recordings were the result of his longstanding association with guitarist, vocalist and bandleader, Marty Grosz. Samples of their issued, unissued, informal or private sessions are presented here, some for the first time.
The sessions featuring piano players Don Ewell and Jim Dapogny are also exceptional rarities.
Many of these amateur recordings were made long ago at informal performances and jam sessions. They’re offered as historic artifacts, despite technical and musical flaws. Except where noted this archival music has not been previously issued or broadcast; only shared among collectors.
Wild Man of the Clarinet
Wild Man of the Clarinet Frank Chace might have been the most experimental revival-jazz clarinetist of his generation. In my opinion his role in a band just barely met the conventional definition of a traditional jazz ensemble clarinet part. In fact, according to jazz musician, writer and broadcaster Richard Hadlock his job prospects were often hurt by his unconventionality, “I have heard story after story to do with Frank's losing out because he wouldn't play 'pretty' or 'straight' or 'traditional' or some other term that meant going outside his own way of making music.”
Frank’s solo variations followed elliptical, unpredictable paths not unlike his main inspiration Pee Wee Russell. At times you’ll hear him drop to an intimate whisper drawing the listener closer, experimenting with sounds at the inner limits of his instrument and beyond.
His role in a band barely met the definition of a jazz ensemble clarinet part. Like Bob Helm, George Probert or others, Chace’s radical choices of tone, timbre, and harmony sang out in clear definition, above a two-beat juggernaut like the Original Salty Dogs.
Even before he took up the clarinet, Frank Chace came under the influence of clarinet player Pee Wee Russell in 1943. That influence was further solidified in 1947 when he heard Pee Wee with Muggsy Spanier in New York City. It was evident the rest of his life.
Chace was an itinerant musician most of his life, drifting around and playing in the Midwest, Chicago, New York and elsewhere including the San Francisco Bay Area apparently. He appeared with bands in Toronto, or Columbus and Dayton, Ohio. Over the years he worked briefly with horn players Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Muggsy Spanier, Jabbo Smith and Lee Collins.
Photos above and right: Chace with comrades of the Salty Dogs, Hunt Club, 1954
Frank played in two of the premier Traditional bands of the Midwest: the Dixieland Rhythm Kings, and the Original Salty Dogs (detailed below).
During the late 1950s and early 1960s in the Chicago area, Frank was recorded in casual sessions with various revivalists including reed man Bob Skiver, bandleader and pianist Jim Dapogny, and Wayne Jones. During his brief time in the Bay Area he made a lasting impression on musicians like Dick Oxtot and Ray Skjelbred.
In the 1970s Chace played with the Chicago Footwarmers and played concerts with pianist Butch Thompson, drummer Hal Smith, and guitarist Marty Grosz. Chace joined a "Chicago Jazz Night" at the 1986 Newport Jazz Festival with trumpeter Yank Lawson and tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller.
Marty Grosz Cellar Boys, from Pax LP 6006, 1951 Steinway Hall, New York, 6/6/51
Hugh McKay (cornet) Eph Resnick (trombone) Frank Chace (clarinet) John Dengler (baritone sax) Dick Wellstood (piano) Marty Grosz (guitar) Pops Foster (bass) Tommy Benford (drums)
Issued as Jolly Roger 78s, mislabeled Mart Gross.
Subsequently issued on 10" 33 rpm, Pax LP 6006 as Pop Foster's Big Eight. All 5 issued on CD: J&M Records J&M CD 8004.
Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, bandleader (b. 1933 Berlin, Germany - ) Grosz is an extraordinary musical talent and admirer of Fats Waller who worked and played extensively with Chace. Marty has the notable distinction of being the only jazz vocalist able to successful evoke the comic spirit of Fats without sounding derivative or ridiculous.
Few living singers of the early jazz repertoire can lead an ensemble with more natural élan and authority. And his bands swing like the devil. Incidentally, Marty is son of noted artist George Grosz (1893-1959), who migrated from Berlin to America in 1933, and is an artist himself.
Their extended musical partnership is explored here in depth.
“I met a clarinet player named Frank Chace in Evanston and we got together. He took me to his house and gave me an education in jazz. Up until then I'd had certain likes but he really gave me an education. He played Pee Wee Russell and Frank Teschemacher for me, which stayed with me for the rest of my life because they are probably my two favorite clarinet players, and some of my favorite jazz.
He played me the Pee Wee solo on "One Hour"; he was crazy about it. Over and over, I mean, twenty times in a row! And then we'd go out and clear our heads and take a walk and come back and he'd play it some more.”
We both worked at a drugstore lunch counter. Frank was a few years
older and was taking care of his senile father (his mother was dead) in
the family's "railroad apartment." "Be Bop" was the newest jazz fad,
but we couldn't care less. Frank was crazy about Pee Wee Russell, loved
Frank Teschemacher, Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, and Fats Waller, also
Rollini, and Bix."continues . . .
Hooray for BIX!
One of the more notable Grosz-Chace collaborations was the Riverside album, Hooray for Bix!. In 1957 Beiderbecke had been out of the public spotlight decades: an obscurity even among informed jazz fans. And Grosz was only in his mid-twenties when he led this session.
The ‘honorable cause’ of the album was not to imitate the originals but produce fresh interpretations of seldom-performed tunes that Bix had played. The name was a takeoff on Bud Freeman's "Summa Cum Laude" band that used that same songs in a 1940 a Bix album.
Cornet player Carl Halen (1928-2012) was a good choice. He was a widely respected Midwestern horn man who ran his Gin Bottle Seven.
The lyric of Walter Donaldson’s “Changes” may be a reference to the legend of Bix and his beautiful melodic modulations: “There’s so many babies he can squeeze, but he’s always changing those keys.”
Marty Grosz (guitar, vocals) Carl Halen (cornet) Frank Chace (clarinet) Bud Wilson (trombone) Bob Skiver ((tenor sax, clarinet) Tut Soper (piano) Chuck Neilson (bass) Bob Saltmarsh (drums)
Notes Hal Smith: For No Reason At All in 'C'" is an excellent example of the lineage from Bix to Pee Wee to Chace. The song is based on "I'd Climb The Highest Mountain" -- one of Bix's favorite songs. Pee Wee played it frequently and recorded it with Bix in mind. Chace kind of handed it back with his interpretation of "For No Reason At All."
Chace and Grosz
Frank’s handful of commercially issued records in the 1950s resulted mostly from his longstanding association with Grosz. Their extended musical partnership is evidenced by several albums, and underlined by numerous unissued private tapes and jam sessions.
Though both musicians have disparaged their early work. Yet they nonetheless captured the ebullience, drive and confidence of 52nd Street swing. Marty’s tight little ensembles of the Fifties achieved an esprit de corps and drive not unlike the best studio pickup bands of the late-Thirties. Their admiration is clearly evident for The Rhythmakers session of 1932 featuring Pee Wee Russell, clarinet with vocals by a young Fats Waller.
Marty Grosz and his Honoris Causa Jazz Band Chicago, December 1957 RISTIC-SAH/Collector’s Items 008 LP
Some of this seems to be rehearsal for what became Hooray for Bix! This was a small label LP remastered by John R.T. Davies. Special thanks to Hal Smith for assistance with pitch correction for these and other tracks.
Carl Halen (cornet) Bud Wilson (trombone) Frank Chace (clarinet, baritone sax) Bob Skiver (tenor sax, clarinet) Tut Soper (piano) Marty Grosz (guitar and vocal) Chuck Neilson (bass) Bob Saltmarsh (drums) occasionally Bill Priestly (cornet, guitar)
Chicago Piano Partners: Don Ewell and Jim Dapogny Chace’s extant duos and trios with piano players Don Ewell and Jim Dapogny are a special treat. Don was among the finest classic jazz piano players of the mid-20th century. They worked numerous gigs together in the Fifties and Sixties.
Ewell was a superb interpreter whose broad style incorporated many elements of classic jazz piano from Jelly Roll Morton to Harlem stride. He provided a perfect accompaniment for Frank’s musical meanderings, such as when they were captured together at a private 1959 session at the home of cornet player Bill Priestly not far from Chicago.
Home of Bill Priestly Lake Forest, IL Don Ewell (piano) Frank Chace (clarinet) Marty Grosz (guitar) Bill Priestly (cornet on first and last)
Influences and Style Most profiles rightly point to Pee Wee Russell as Chace’s main stylistic and spiritual influence. Also basic to his method were Johnny Dodds and Omer Simeon, African American clarinetists who shaped Chicago in the 1920s.
But in addition I want to highlight Chace’s affinity for Frank Teschemacher. He’s often heard clearly embracing Tesch’s spiky melodic lines, acerbic tone and daring style. Deeply embedded in Frank’s clarinet sound, and partially transmitted via Pee Wee according to some, was Teschemacher’s slashing, wildly expressive so-called ‘white Chicago’ clarinet style.
Tesch’s handful of appearances on record in the late-1920s were a tantalizing preview of a musician who was gone before realizing his artistic potential. Teschemacher died in a car crash at age 26.
Chace came closer to realizing Teschemacher’s astringent tone and swaggering intensity than just about any other clarinet player since. It’s my surmise that he must have heard the few Tesch discs still around, because the likeness is at times uncanny.
Chace’s wild slashing expressive style of white Chicago clarinet also seems inspired in part by the spiky melodic lines, acerbic tone and daring improvisations of Frankie Teschemacher (1906-32).
Embedded in the style of Chace’s exemplar, Pee Wee Russell was the lost voice of Frankie Teschemacher. Despite his tragic early death Tesch has been a little-acknowledged source of inspiration among true jazz musicians.
Many find in Tesch’s pioneering sound the hot clarinet style of Pee Wee, though Russell resented the comparison, according to Hal Smith: “Pee Wee always disavowed the Teschemacher influence, and greatly resented the comparison! He really did develop a different style by the end of the '20s. If you hear Tesch on Elmer Schoebel's ‘Prince Of Wails’ vs. Pee Wee on Red Nichols' ‘Da-Da Strain’ from the same era you'll hear how they went their separate ways!”
Prince of Wails- Elmer Schoebel and his Friar's Society Orchestra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hn7RnvxCFI
Copenhagen- Elmer Schoebel and his Friar's Society Orchestra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hn7RnvxCFI
NODS TAPROOM, May 19, 1960, Berkeley, CA Surprisingly, some fine sessions were recorded in Berkeley during the 1960s. This was recorded at a popular little bar in Berkeley by Dave Greer who has made it available; this is first publication.
In his memoir, bandleader/banjo player Dick Oxtot recalled, “an excellent Frank Teschemacher-style clarinetist,” explaining how he and Frank were hired for a San Francisco card room gig.
Chace’s Teschemacher chops were on display at a vivid 1960 session. Taped at Nod’s Taproom in Berkeley, he stands out in these little-known obscurities led by trumpeter Byron Berry (an even more elusive character!), with Jerry Butzen (trombone), Bill Erickson (piano) and Dick Oxtot (banjo).
the exception of Oxtot, all these performers are poorly represented on disc. This archival performance tape is quite
listenable, despite technical flaws.
Byron Berry (trumpet) Frank Chace (clarinet) Jerry Butzen (trombone) Bill Erickson (piano) Dick Oxtot (banjo) bass unknown
This was an odd and ultimately unsuccessful session, adding up to less than the sum of its parts. Jabbo Smith had just come out of more than twenty years retirement and had not yet regained his chops: he's uneven and tentative.
Frank Chace's contributions are tasty, but little more than an afterthought. Unreleased for 20 years, it was first issued when Jabbo had began his remarkable comeback in the 1980s.
RENE’S LOUNGE, Westmont, IL 10.11.64
Ted Butterman (trumpet) Steve Mengler (trombone) Frank Chace (clarineet) Bob Skiver (tenor joins at Devil & Deep Blue) Bob Sundstrom (banjo) Mike Walbridge (tuba and vocal) Wayne Jones (snare drum & cymbals, vocals)
Original Salty Dogs Rehearsals for Chicago Historical Society 5/2/65
Personnel probably: Lew Green (cornet) Frank Chace (clarinet) Jim Dapogny (cornet, valve trombone, piano) Jim Snyder (trombone) John Cooper (piano) Bob Sundstrom (banjo, guitar) Mike Walbridge (tuba, bass sax) Wayne Jones (drums)
Jim Kweskin with the Neo-Passe Jazz Band Jump for Joy, 1967
produced by Samuel Charters Universe/Vanguard/Comet UV 051/VMD 79243
Jim Kweskin (vocal and guitar) Ted Butterman (cornet and bandleader) Frank Chace (clarinet and bass sax) Johnny Frigo (violin) Kim Cusack (tenor sax and clarinet) Marty Grosz (banjo and guitar, arrangments) Truck Parham (bass) Wayne Jones (drums)
Hal Smith comments: Kim Cusack once told me that to listen to Frank's solo on "You're Not The Only Oyster" is to submerge yourself in pure musical bliss -- or words to that effect.
Wayne Jones recalled Frank: "Down the years, Chace worked at Salty Dogs engagements as a substitute for regular clarinet man Kim Cusack. Drummer Wayne Jones said “We were all in awe of Frank and, at the same time, delighted with our good fortune to know him and to have him on our bandstand, wherever it was.
You did not dare take your ears off him and I like to think he made us all play better. I believe we all thought of him as superman. Even if he didn't like a tune or what someone in the band was doing, he'd just jump in. Pee Wee could be ornery and show his disdain but Frank would save the day!”
Dapogny Residence, Downers Grove, IL, 1967
Jim Dapogny (piano) Frank Chace (clarinet) Wayne Jones (drums)
Richard Hadlock on Frank Chace: "Over the 30-some years I've been observing his largely hidden talent, I have heard story after story to do with Frank's losing out because he wouldn't play 'pretty' or 'straight' or 'traditional' or some other term that meant going outside his own way of making music....
"There have been occasions when Frank simply would not take a paying but dumb job. At other times he hasn't been hired or was let go because someone wanted to hear, say, "Stardust" and didn't recognize Frank's version of it. The result is that Frank Chace has kept one of the lowest profiles among outstanding jazz players."
Chace was featured in a 1969 combo, backed by Ray Skjelbred (piano), Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals) and Pete Allen (bass), probably recorded in Berkeley. This quartet was an ideal solo forum, putting Frank’s lengthy improvisations, inventiveness, and wide range of moods in the limelight.
Comments Hal Smith: "Oxtot and Skjelbred were really taken by Frank's playing at this session and they remembered it very well many years later."
Frank Chace (clarinet) Ray Skjelbred (piano) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Pete Allen (string bass)
Isolation, Withdrawal and Rediscovery Beginning in the late 1970s work became patchy and Chace took a day job with a company producing audio-visual training materials. Though he continued to sound good at occasional gigs, jobs and jams, he gradually isolated himself, playing less often.
Apparently, and according to those who knew him personally, Frank was always introverted, in later years painfully shy and taciturn. Living in his native Chicago in the 1990s he was often seriously ill and became depressed. The 1997 Chicago Jazz Festival seems to have been his last gig, and he soon ceased playing his instrument. Reclusive and withdrawn he gradually lost interest in music, retiring to a solitary existence. He died in 2007.
Marty Grosz has suggested that the vacuum created by Frank’s premature absence prior to his passing may have over-inflated the tales of his greatness. Yet these collected recordings surely bear out the reputation of a bold, profoundly expressive, experimental clarinet player following in Pee Wee Russell’s footsteps. He was uncanny at evoking the searing Teschemacher sound, or generating beguiling solo variations of unlimited duration and imagination.
An obscure legend overlooked for too long, this wildly creative artist is due for reconsideration. The surviving music of Frank Chace is lasting evidence of his unique talent, distinctive voice, and remarkable individuality.
Frank Chace's clarinet Photo courtesy Michael Steinman JAZZLIVES
Dewey Jackson Live at The Barrel, 1952
Delmark DE 246, 2006
Dewey Jackson was a St.Louis legend born in 1900 who'd played in the famed orchestras of Charlie Creath, Fate Marable and the first band at the Cotton Club in NYC. The intended trumpet player Lee Collins was too till for the session.
Dewey Jackson (trumpet) Frank Chace (clarinet) Sid Dawson (trombone) Don Ewell (piano) Booker T. Washington (drums)