Though he’s only 23 years old, blues pianist Chase Garrett is no novice to life as a professional performer. This year he’ll be re-joining the Centrum faculty at the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival. While he was abroad in London, we took a few minutes to catch up with him about filling in for blues legend, Ann Rabson, The Big Piano at FAO Schwartz, and playing happy.
Centrum: You’ve been playing from such a young age, but is teaching a newer medium for you?
Chase Garrett: Teaching is relatively new to me, but I really enjoy it. I’ve had a few young students in the past and I currently have a young man I teach in Cincinnati, OH. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a student as I don’t give him consistent lessons, but I’ve known him for the past few years and every time I see him I try to teach him something and he always seems eager to learn. Teaching blues piano at Centrum last August was the first time I had really been exposed to a traditional classroom approach. I think it’s such a great idea and really gives people the opportunity to learn and literally play off of each other. I never was aware of such an opportunity when I started to really take up a passion for the blues piano and had to only rely on cd’s and records. If I had known there was a place I could go where I could learn from people who play the music, I would have done anything to be there.
CG: I think teaching is a way for me to express myself and experience the creative and imaginative process of others in a way that allows us to enjoy the music together while sharing our thoughts and ideas, rather than me being on stage telling you how I feel, but not being able to hear any musical response from the audience. I guess I’d say it’s a different type of enjoyment. It brings me a lot of joy to see someone really getting into the music they love both on stage and in the classroom.
C: You’ve accomplished so much professionally in your youth. Has your relatively young age posed a challenge for you as a performer/collaborator?
CG: I appreciate the compliments. I would say that now being 23 it’s a bit easier for people to take me seriously as a pianist vs. when I was 16 or 17 just getting exposed to music festivals and other blues and boogie woogie musicians. I have to admit though I was a bit nervous last year when I walked into the Centrum classroom for the first day of class. As I was walking across campus it dawned on me that everyone who was originally expecting a piano blues veteran to be their teacher was now reliant on a 22 year old from Iowa– haha. I love Ann [Rabson] and felt bad that she couldn’t make it, but at the same time I kind of had to look at the situation as a way to prove myself as a pianist, performer and academic of the music I was teaching. And being asked back again has shown be that I must have done something right. I really try not to let age be a factor when it comes to piano because no matter if you’re 2 or 102, everyone loves music and music will always be relatable. Everyone gets the blues now and again.
C: What projects are you working on right now? What are you doing in London?
CG: Right now I’m working on finishing up a CD from a concert I produced in Iowa City, IA back in November. It’s my 3rd Annual Blues & Boogie Woogie Piano Stomp CD and features pianists and performers from England, Switzerland, France, New York and Indiana. The CD should hopefully be out in the next few months. I have the Englert Theatre in Iowa City rented out this year as well for my 4th Piano Stomp concert this November. I’m in England staying with another pianist to learn a few things. His name is James Goodwin and he specializes in barrelhouse piano. It’s been a really great experience and I’ve learned a lot, not only about piano, but about life in general. Last week I was also in France staying with a pianist who encompasses classical, swing, blues and jazz into his playing. His name is Fabrice Eulry and he is also featured on my 2nd Piano Stomp CD. We were at his house in Burgundy for a bit, then drove to Brussels, then Paris and back to Burgundy. He also had a lot of knowledge to dish up. I’ve shared the stage with Fabrice and James both before and their both magnificent players. I’ll also be coming back to Europe in April to perform in Vienna in a Boogie Woogie Festival and I will be returning to Muscatine, Iowa to perform in a Ragtime festival this weekend.
C: You recently moved to NYC; can you talk about that?
CG: I moved to New York back in August to pursue music and see what the big apple has to offer. I was very much in culture shock going from a town of 75,000 to a city of over 8 million. I live in Brooklyn now on the first floor of a house with separate families living on the second floor and in the basement. After moving to NY I got a job working at F.A.O Schwarz, a toy store on 5th Ave about a block from central park. I was a photographer at The Big Piano; a huge piano you can walk on that also lights up. After I got the job I returned to Iowa and told everyone I work with music in Manhattan–haha. I’ve started getting gigs though too. I play at a place called the Rum House on 47th St. in Times Square and another place called The Manhattan Inn on Brooklyn. I perform at The Rum House on February 4th and the 22nd. I’ve also performed at weddings and few other odd gigs in between. I have ideas about what I’d like to do there, but I’m unsure whether I’m going to stay or not mainly due to the cost, but also the atmosphere. I’m currently looking at other options.
C: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
CG: I would say to play what you like to play and enjoy it! Music is meant to be fun and expressive. You could spend your whole life trying to sound like Oscar Peterson, but maybe you’d be happier playing Otis Spann. I think what I’m trying to say is you can do anything and try to play like whoever you want, but in the end you can only be YOU. Only Oscar Peterson can play like Oscar Peterson and only Otis Spann can play like Otis Spann, but if you can grab inspiration from great performers and make it something of your own then you’ve really got something. I often tell people that both Oscar and Otis are two of my favorite and most inspirational pianists, yet they both have completely different playing styles and I love that. Whatever inspires you should be whatever makes you happy and makes you dream. Get inspired, play happy, be you.