“I should have been born in the 1920s,” says Chase, a 21-year-old Kirkwood Community College student from Iowa City. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after I’ve been singing a tune — mostly older people — and they say, ‘You sound like an old black man.’ That’s one of the best compliments I could ever get.”
The funky white guy is hoping the college students who pass him by as he fires up the Ped Mall pianos will spend a little more time with him and his multigenerational friends at the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City on Nov. 12.
He’s put together a show to spread his gospel, titled “Chase Garrett’s Blues & Boogie Piano Stomp.” Joining him in solo and combo spotlights will be Bob Seeley of Detroit, Ricky Nye of Cincinnati and Lluis Coloma of Barcelona, Spain.
“Iowa City knows jazz, but I don’t know if they know boogie woogie.” Chase says. “I want them to get to know its music and these players.”
He describes the music as “fast blues.”
“If you know what blues is, just speed it up,” he says. “I call it dance music. It has different forms in the left hand — the most common are the shuffle and a walking bass line that just walks a regular chord plus a sixth.”
He says it became really popular during World War II and beyond and can be heard in the rhythms of Jerry Lee lewis, Little Richard and Fats Domino.
It’s a style he got turned onto as a child, thanks to a gift from his grandma.
“When I was 9, I got a little keyboard for Christmas, and it came with two free lessons. My sister was 14 and didn’t want to take them, so I ended up taking them. I also got a Scott Joplin CD. I wanted to play with my Legos, but my dad said, ‘Make your grandma happy and listen to something off the CD.’ The first song I heard was ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and I wanted to learn it.”
He played it at a recital two months later, and with a jangle of nerves, “sped the song up about three times as fast as it should be played.”
After that first keyboard, even his subsequent pianos have been vintage, from a 1901 Knabe upright and a 1936 Francis Bacon upright to his current 1925 Steinway grand, converted from a player piano to a conventional one, and an A100 Hammond organ, produced in the early ’60s.
Chase, who turned pro at 17, has recorded a CD titled “Mrs. Blues”; plays a few gigs and private parties in Eastern Iowa; attends boogie woogie festivals around the country; and through Lluis Coloma, has been invited to attend the fifth annual Boogie Woogie Jubilee in Barcelona on Nov. 26.
Chase has played with all three jazz masters joining him in Iowa City, saying each will bring different elements to the concert.
“(Audiences) will hear boogie woogie and blues from the ’30s and ’40s, some classic blues (like) Otis Spann, Muddy Waters and B.B. King, some solo piano performances, as well as piano with bass and drums,” Chase says. “They’ll hear an inventive style from Lluis, basic boogie woogie from Bob, a New Orleans and fun style from Ricky and from me, a mixture of classical boogie woogie and original blues tunes.
“And a jumping good time.”