Interview: Talking Jazz Is PHSH with Drummer Adam Chase | Community Idea Stations

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Interview: Talking Jazz Is PHSH with Drummer Adam Chase

Jazz Is PHSH is a tribute band that takes the music of Phish and re-imagines it in the form of horn-driven instrumentals.  In the words of drummer Adam Chase, “Jazz Is PHSH is where Sun Ra meets Herbie Hancock.  It's funky and experimental with a variety of styles that blend in a world of fusion.” Jazz Is PHSH will be at The Broadberry on December 18.

Read on for more of my interview with Adam.

Tell me about the concept behind Jazz Is PHSH. Jazz is associated with improvisation and Phish is certainly an improvisational rock band. What are the other connections? 

Adam Chase: As for the concept, it is inspired by the band Jazz Is Dead that featured Billy Cobham, Alphonso Johnson, Jimmy Herring, Rod Morgernstein, Jeff Sipe and more. The band created instrumental versions of Grateful Dead songs. I felt it was appropriate for Phish to have a similar tribute with prominent jazz musicians. As a musician that studied jazz in college, I always felt that a lot of Phish's compositions, especially their early work, would lend itself well to horn arrangements and jazz interpretations. So while there is certainly the jazz element found in the improvisation, the tunes that we have picked to rearrange really serve the elements of jazz composition well. The other connections are that Phish had played with many great jazz musicians including Michael Ray, Jeff Coffin, Carl Gerhard and Kofi Burbridge, all of which are on the Jazz Is PHSH album. 

Who is in the band that will be performing in Richmond, VA on 12/18? And on the upcoming album (to be released in early 2017)?

Adam Chase: The band that will be in Richmond will include Kebbi Williams (sax), Scott Flynn (trombone), Mark Ingraham (trumpet), Derrick Johnson (trombone), Cody Wright (bass), Adam Chase (drums), Matthew Chase (drums), Josh Thomas (keys).

The album features Adam Chase (drums and percussion), Matthew Chase (guitar), Dennis Chambers (drums), Jeff Coffin (tenor saxophone), Chris Bullock (tenor saxophone, flute), Kofi Burbridge (flute), Michael Ray (trumpet), Carl Gerhard (trumpet), Derrick Johnson (trombone), Scott Flynn (trombone), Josh Thomas (keys), Anthony Wellington (bass), Chris DeAngelis (bass), Grant Green Jr. (guitar), Holly Bowling (piano), Lenny Pettinelli (keys).

Describe the process of arranging Phish songs for this ensemble, particularly for instruments outside of guitar/bass/drum/keyboard. What you all are doing is different than a typical tribute band that tries to mimic the actual sound and instrumentation as much as possible.

Adam Chase: We are really trying to make the music into something new and fresh. Most of what we do starts with rebuilding the melodies and vocal arrangements into the horn section, which is what carries the songs and keeps them familiar to Phish fans. From there we try to get as creative as possible often creating new motifs, beats and colorings to overlay the melodies back on to. Everything we do is carefully mapped out and charted and while we do leave room from improvisation, there is a strong compositional element to our arrangements. It would definitely be accurate to say that covering Phish and covering Jazz Is PHSH would be two separate projects if a band was looking to dissect the music.

Are there any songs that you didn’t think would work for Jazz Is PHSH that surprised you? And vice versa.

Adam Chase: I wasn't sure how the song "46 Days" was going to work out since it's such a rocking song and has the least amount of obvious jazz influence in it. After it went through the group filter and came out the other end, it sounds like a song off of a Herbie Hancock album and has quickly become a fan favorite. Not sure there are songs I thought would be easy that did not translate, but we did create arrangements for "Squirming Coil", "Fast Enough For You", and "The Sloth"; none of which have actually been played live by the band. For some reason they just haven't grown legs yet.   

What are some things you’ve learned about Phish’s music through this project?

Adam Chase: Through this project I have learned that the vocal melodies Phish writes are amazingly strong and really come to light for their strength when translated to horn parts. Phish are not exactly known for strong vocals so sometimes they are not given the credit they deserve when it comes to the compositional elements of the vocal parts.

How do you see the overall Phish songbook being carried forward by artists of the future? Do you think it will continue to thrive and expand into a variety of forms the way Grateful Dead music has, or will it be something more like the cult-like obscurity associated with the music of Frank Zappa, for example?

Adam Chase: It's tough to say.  As far as popularity, Phish will always have greater popularity than say Frank Zappa, mostly because Phish succeeded in taking very complex arrangements (akin to Zappa) and making them palatable for a wider audience. Whether or not Phish's songbook will be celebrated the way The Grateful Dead's music has been is debatable.