Emmy-winning filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo is running a 45-day global fundraising campaign at Kickstarter.com to raise $50,000 to begin shooting her feature-length documentary film, NIGHT BIRD SONG: THE THOMAS CHAPIN STORY this summer. The shoot locations will include the New York City area, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Europe. The Kickstarter campaign was launched on February 13, and will end on March 31. The Kickstarter page is LIVE. And for more about the film, visit www.thomaschapinfilm.com.
Castillo's 90-minute documentary film, budgeted at around $300,000 for its production alone, and slated for a 2014 finish, will unfold the life of the late Thomas Chapin, a jazz master who emerged in the 1980's in New York City's wild and free downtown music scene with a highly original style. After 20 years of a soaring career and 12 CDs, most under the Knitting Factory label, Chapin passed away in 1998 at age 40, following a yearlong bout with leukemia.
Chapin was considered a virtuoso by jazz writers who followed him. He was described as having "monstrous chops" and "full of incredible energy, pushing the needle, never letting up." Critics said he was "moving the music forward." A vanguard in the world of "free" jazz, Chapin embraced all expressions of music. Most notably, he moved easily between the avant-garde and straight-ahead jazz communities; jazz festival promoter John Phillips called him an enormous bridge. Jazz writer Larry Blumenfeld noted: "Chapin is commonly pointed to as one who helped the downtown scene connect with a larger audience and is credited by some as lending a more experimental edge to jazz's mainstream."
Castillo, who lives in Hawaii and New York City, is making her 10th documentary and her fourth biography. She has been making documentaries since 1988. Her first documentary, SIMPLE COURAGE: AN HISTORICAL PORTRAIT FOR THE AGE OF AIDS, which aired on PBS, won an EMMY in 1993. Her other film biographies include AN UNCOMMON KINDNESS, the story of St. Damien who worked among Hawaii's leprosy victims in the late 1900's and STRANGE LAND, the story of her mother's coming to America as a World War II war bride from the Philippines.
Chapin was Castillo's friend and her sister Terri Castillo Chapin's husband. "I knew I wanted to make this film when I saw Thomas's obituary in the New York Times and heard music tributes were being played on Boston NPR and on other jazz stations.
"Thomas's story and his remarkable but short career has never been fully told, although he is included in the major encyclopedias of jazz," she says. "I don't know that much about jazz or Thomas as a player, for that matter, so when I began researching him, I asked people who knew him, played with him and wrote about him, 'Should a film about Thomas Chapin be made?' They all emphatically said, 'Yes. Absolutely.' And then I said, 'Tell me why.' What they told me compelled me to want to create this film."
Straight out of college, and thanks to the recommendation of his mentor and educator at Rutgers University, jazz master Paul Jeffrey, Chapin went on to tour with Lionel Hampton as his lead alto sax and musical director. This was followed by a two-year stint as saxophonist with the legendary drummer Chico Hamilton, before forming his own Thomas Chapin Trio, which had a long, eight-year stint (1989 to 1997), playing all over the world. His following in Europe grew as the Knitting Factory jazz tours and George Wein's Festival Productions put the Thomas Chapin Trio and staged concerts for thousands.
The film, says Castillo, also will show the competitive environment that Chapin thrived in with his Trio as he came to play on the big jazz stages of the world, including a milestone performance at the 1995 Newport Jazz Festival, which was later broadcast on PBS. The ever-elusive reach for wider recognition was profoundly explained, says Castillo, by Chapin's friend, colleague and bassist, Mario Pavone: "As Thomas told me, the plane was just gaining altitude." Castillo added, "Thomas had some other big challenges. The film will also explore how Thomas had a childhood heart condition that was active and ever-present throughout his performing life, how he overcame his personal struggle with alcohol and the hard- won battle to gain his parents' approval for a career that went against their conservative New England traditions and expectations.