Described as “… an especially promising saxophonist and composer…” by the San Francisco Chronicle, saxophonist Chase Baird has become increasingly recognized for his passionate and innovative approach to musical improvisation and composition. His unique sound is a truly twenty-first century phenomenon. Driven by its unyielding search for meaningful expression, Chase's music reflects a deep felt understanding of what is truly relevant to the human experience. He is a pioneer of musical improvisation and composition.
Chase's voice on the saxophone stems from a confluence of modern masters including Gato Barbieri and Michael Brecker. He discovered Gato's music when he was 12 years old, in sixth grade (“The first time I heard him, I was completely blown away; I’d never heard anything like that; he plays with such passion and humanity”). Of Mr. Brecker, Baird comments "Michael’s playing was so innovative, so compelling and modern: I listened to him and it always brought to mind angular beams of light searing their way to edge of time.” Artists often start by emulating others, before finding their own voices; that’s the natural way of things. By 14, Baird could replicate a technically daunting Brecker solo—spending months to transcribe and master it—while still saying his ultimate goal was to play with the heart he felt in Barbieri’s playing. He wanted to someday possess for himself Brecker’s hard-won technical command of his instrument, along with the magic he felt Barbieri could create with single perfectly-placed notes.
In late 2002, Baird got his parents to mail a tape of his playing to Michael Brecker. To his surprise, the phone soon rang in his home, and it was Brecker, who said he’d listened to the tape and felt he should call. Chase recalls: “Here I am, I’m 14, and Michael Brecker is talking with me like I’m an adult. I was impressed.” Brecker said they should meet in person next time that Brecker was in Salt Lake City, where Baird lived. Before too long, they did just that. Baird notes: “We hung out at the hotel where he was staying. I ordered a Coke, he ordered a Perrier. He asked me who I listened to. I told him: ‘I listen to Gato and Coltrane and Joe Henderson and you’–it felt odd for me to be telling him I listen to his music, it was weird to even be chatting with him; I was so deep into his music. He recommended books for me to read. He was so altruistic.”
Born in Seattle, Washington, on March 18, 1988, Chase's early years w
ere spent amidst the sound of rain and his father's sporadic attempts to lull him to sleep with scat singing. "My dad always tries to take credit for 'laying the foundation' for my interest in music since he sang scat to me as a baby," Chase recalls with a smirk. His family later relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Chase eventually picked up the sax around age ten. "I got really into music when I was in junior high school; in part from the great experience I had learning from my band director Paul Watson. He's a true educator and a wonderful human being." He also began taking lessons with New York ex-patriot Alan Michael (aka Alan Braufman) who helped the saxophonist progress at a rapid rate and even invited him to begin sitting in at local clubs. It was also during this period that Chase won first place at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Saxophone Competition.
While in high school his family moved to San Francisco, California, where he began to play and learn alongside fellow young musicians like pianist Julian Waterfall Pollack, trumpeter Billy Buss and many others. He was part of Berklee College of Music's first Summer Jazz Workshop group and had the opportunity to study with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist John Lockwood. "Terri helped me to begin developing more confidence in my playing and potential as an artist," Baird notes. Later that year, the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts (NFAA) selected the saxophonist to be part of its prestigious Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellowship, an honor previously afforded to alums Marcus Strickland, Roy Hargrove and Brad Mehldau.
In 2007, he relocated to Los Angeles to attend California State University Long Beach where he studied both music and psychology as a recipient of the prestigious KJZZ scholarship. At Long Beach, Chase began to develop the roots of what has begun to define him as a definitively postmodern and unconventional artist. "When I first got to Long Beach, they put me in freshman classical theory since I didn't know the correct nomenclature for classical harmony. I remember we started from the ground up listening to a single note and its accompanying overtone series. Our teacher explained that all music came from the partials that are evident within a single vibration. I thought it was a waste of time at first, but have come to realize that it's the essential ingredient to understanding musical structure and form. It's like Picasso studying anatomy and then going completely left with it all. If we start looking beyond style and instead look at the basic elements of music, there's a lot more potential to innovate in directions we haven't thought of yet."
This experience also instilled in Baird the formative elements for a burgeoning theoretical approach to chromatic improvisation, an approach which he later came to call Harmonic Grounding. In early 2010, Chase wrote an essay that outlined the basic theoretical origins for Harmonic Grounding. This article will be featured in Downbeat Magazine’s December 2010 issue.
Chase has performed for audiences throughout the United States, Canada and Japan at venues including the Blue Note (New York) and the Monterey Jazz Festival. He has performed with Randy Brecker, Terri Lyne Carrington, Tom Kubis, Nir Felder, Julian Waterfall Pollack and others. He currently maintains an active schedule as a performer and clinician throughout the United States and beyond.
His debut CD Crosscurrent (released Junebeat Records; July 2010) features pianist Julian Pollack, guitarist John Storie, percussionist James Yoshizawa, bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Steve Lyman. Released to great critical acclaim, Crosscurrent contains seven originals alongside Burke & Haggart's "What's New" and Cole Porter's "All of You." The music represents the saxophonist's personal and creative growth during the past several years: "I wrote some of the music as early as 2005, although it was modified a bit for this recording. I feel that the music came from three distinct periods of time throughout the past several years, each lending itself to a unique aesthetic based on the growth and perspective changes I was experiencing in my life."
Crosscurrent possesses the rare feat of memorable melodies developed amidst often subtle, yet complex, compositional intricacies. Together they create a unique and highly emotional aesthetic; the rhythm section's swirling momentum creates a foil for the saxophonist's fiery melodic lines. As noted by jazz critic and author Chip Deffaa, "Baird’s numbers often start in one place, and then seem to naturally grow in power. I listen to his ever-surprising originals, struck both by the great confidence he projects, and the way his works can keep shifting and changing while still proceeding with a sense of inevitability. Now this meter, now that meter; now he takes the lead, now the pianist. Quirky, off-center, bristling with energy. Going in unexpected directions. Yet following its own kind of logic. So the music all feels satisfyingly organic, whole. He creates highly structured jazz, writing carefully for all members of his band. Yet everything feels free, spontaneous. No small feat."
Chase comments that the album's title, Crosscurrent, came to be for a variety of reasons, most obviously the band's even east-west orientation. With three members with professional ties to Los Angeles and three with ties to New York, the band is a true confluence of east and west with the two fundamentally different approaches melding together to form a unique project that is Baird's own. "I've come to really value the importance of having a quirk--you know, throwing a wrench in there and seeing what happens. Musicians from Los Angeles tend to think a bit differently and play a bit differently than musicians in New York and vice versa. I wanted to take the best of both and piece together something that's hopefully a little different. It keeps everyone on their toes and open to new possibilities."
Crosscurrent is available on Junebeat Records and can be purchased at chasebaird.com, cdbaby.com, iTunes, jazzhangrecords.com, and beyond.