2 feet from Stardom, Chazz Frichtel

Image Credits: Chazz Frichtel © Melanie Futorian.

April 23, 2019

As a bass player, you need a band. As a vocalist and guitarist, I am the band and I can take it in any direction I want

Bass Player/ Vocalist behind Chaka Khan, Chuck Mangione, Michael McDonald, Christopher Cross, Sheena Easton, Raquel Welch, Ann Jillian, Tony Orlando, Wilson Phillips, Gregory Hines, and many more. He can also be heard singing the theme to NBC's syndicated hit sitcom "Saved By The Bell.”
 

I started out playing guitar and was totally self taught. All the records were my teachers. Of course we didn’t have You Tube, so I’d mimic the records and by looking at photographs, figure out the hand positions to identify the chords. I remember some revelations like, “Oh my god, that’s a D chord!”
When I was about 13 years old, my best friend, had a little group. When the bass player left, I decided to pick up the bass with hopes I could get into the band. I thought well, If it was good enough for Paul McCartney, it was good enough for me.
 
I immediately loved it - the register, and it was both melodic and rhythmic. By the way, I got into the band.
 
My first high profile call was to play for Raquel Welch in Lake Tahoe. She had a cabaret act, did a great job and was incredibly nice. From there I played a short stint with Tony Orlando, but my next gig was one of the highlights of my career. It was with Chaka Khan.
 
It was 1983 and Chaka had an upcoming tour to Japan and Hawaii with a completely different band than Rufus. When she went into rehearsal it just hadn’t come together. She was about to cancel the tour when my friend Mark Hatch (who was performing with Rufus at the time) said, “give me 3 days to pull a band together.” He then called me and others from his band, Whirlwind which we were all in.
Chaka liked us and we went on tour which was a tremendous thrill, because there’s only one Chaka. She’s a really fiery gal who loved drums and percussion. At any given moment she’d put the mic down and start flailing on the timbales, so we had to be on alert. Then she’d go back to the mic and we’d pick up where we left off. Not too long after having met Christopher Cross, I came home one day and there was a message on my machine from Michael McDonald. Christopher had apparently recommended me to Michael.
 
At first I thought it to be a prank and I telephoned my friends to ask if they’d called me, but it actually was Michael. I started out as a sub, but later joined his band which lasted 18 years. Now that’s pretty unheard of in the music industry, to have the same band for that length of time or as a player, that you’d want to do any gig for that long. But I did. It was great music with great musicians.
 
Pictures © Melanie Futorian
 
In 2000 I got the call from Chuck Mangione.
It was a real thrill playing with Chuck. Before he had national fame, I remember seeing him play when I was in high school. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think our paths would cross - but many years later, they did.
There was David Tull on drums, Gerry Neiwood on saxophone and flute, Grant Geissman initially played guitar until Coleman Mellett replaced him. Corey Allen played second keys, though the first few gigs were with Rick Montalbano on keys/organ. Rick was my dear friend and mentor so that was a special thrill for me and the great Don Alias was on percussion.
 
As Corey Allen said, “Don was always flying at a higher altitude.” He had that special something that was rare and elusive. My tenure with Chuck was just fantastic because I was back in the ”jazz world” after having backed up singers like Michael McDonald and Christopher Cross. The music demanded more of me stylistically and I also took over the vocal duties, which was fun and challenging. I sang “Children of Sanchez,” “Freddie’s Walkin’ “and ”Lullaby.”
 
Chuck was pretty economical with his words. When he said something it really had meaning behind it. At one point I had to tell Chuck I had some conflicting dates with Michael McDonald and Chuck just said,“miss you already.” It meant so much to me.
I never heard Chuck tell anyone how to play anything. He put his faith and trust in the musicians to bring his musical compositions to life. It was an incredible freedom and also an incredible responsibility - but a blast! The 9 years that I played with Chuck was a real growth period because the music challenged me to become better in all aspects.
 
Presently I’m performing on acoustic guitar and singing, championing songs that I love from all different kinds of artists and I throw in a few of my compositions too. Of course I’m still playing bass and singing as well. I’ve always been a songwriter and made 3 solo records with my own material and one with Bernie Chiaravalle who still plays with Michael McDonald.
Bernie and I had a duo called Silent Partner and we wrote all the material for that. As a bass player, you need a band and often others pitch and you catch. As a vocalist and guitarist, I am the band and I can take it in any direction I want, which is always challenging, fun and new.
 
So you ask what wise words I might offer? Well, as my friend Rick Montalbano once said. “ Never leave your wallet in the dressing room."
-
 

Chazz Frichtel Futorian Reportage Jazzespresso Jazz Magazine - copyright 2019

 
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