The award-winning music documentary Night Bird Song: The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin, celebrates sax and flute master Thomas Chapin, a Jackson Heights artist and resident, and his 60th birthday anniversary (March 9). Chapin died from leukemia in 1998 at age 40.
The film reveals Chapin’s music formation, including his six-year stint as Lionel Hampton’s music director and lead alto sax. It goes on to detail Chapin’s emergence as a musical force in the late 80s in New York City’s downtown jazz scene and his incredible rise in the 90s.
Chapin was one of a few artists of his generation to exist in both the city’s downtown experimental scene and its uptown world of traditional jazz. Some called him a bridge to those two worlds. Fearless in his pursuit of creating edgy, engaging, cutting-edge sounds, he was tireless and passionate, pushing jazz forward. His influences were from classical and mainstream jazz and included Lionel Hampton, Jackie McLean, James Spaulding, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphin and Paul Jeffrey.
On Saturday, April 1, Flushing Town Hall is proud to screen a 96-minute version of the film, Night Bird Song: The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin, for free. (Discover details here!) The screening is being made possible by a grant from the Queens Art Council, and will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo, an Emmy Award-winning director, and her co-producer/co-writer Noel M. Izon, also a veteran documentary filmmaker.
“We’re so honored to be showing this new version for this Queens screening. Thomas Chapin’s place in jazz history will become clear, and it will enchant the Center’s students when they discover the context in which he played in the 80’s and 90’s,” says Castillo.
The filmmaker invites musicians who had never met Thomas Chapin or are unaware of him to the screening. “Come to this great jazz venue and be inspired by his story. See my tribute to a great jazz virtuoso who left us too soon,” says Castillo.
Because of this film, says Castillo, Chapin will no longer be a footnote in jazz. “His indelible mark will be known for all time. Today, new listeners and young players are discovering and playing his music,” she says.
This is Castillo’s 10th documentary. She spent four years making the documentary and interviewed more than 45 people in the U.S. and Europe. The film screened at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival last fall, and won the Best Story Award at an international film festival in Nice, France.
Completed January 2016, the documentary recently screened at Jazz at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, andhas gained rave critical reviews and consistent accolades from viewers and critics, whose comments include “inspiring,” “masterpiece,” and “a beautiful tribute.” Said DownBeat’s critic Bill Milkowski, “Stephanie has brought this documentary film to fruition to remind jazz fans of what a potent force Chapin was on the ’90s jazz scene.”
Castillo recently secured educational distribution for the film and is in the final stages of securing worldwide distribution for TV, cable and video on demand platforms. Castillo and Izon believe that while this is a jazz film, it’s for everyone, not just music or jazz fans. It shows audiences how one man lived an extraordinary, uncompromising life and managed to remain true to who he was.
The film will screen for free at 7:00 PM on Saturday, April 1 at Flushing Town Hall, located on Northern Boulevard at Linden Place. You can learn more here.