Monterey Jazz Festival 2016 Brings the Late Thomas Chapin Full Circle

Through Documentary Film from 'Olena Media, Chapin Finally "Plays" 20 Years after Canceling Due to Illness.

​​​The significance of performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival can not be understated. The longest-running jazz festival in the world features the best of jazz through performance and education. It hosts unparalleled world talent and legends and stands as a legacy to this musical genre, and  impacts future generations of jazz musicians and afficionados alike.

It would have been a momentous milestone for the career of saxophonist-flutist and composer Thomas Chapin and an unforgettable, exhilarating ride for the audience if he had been able to play with his Trio back in 1997. At the peak of his form, he was booked to play for the festival's 40th anniversary.

After standout appearances on other big world jazz stages in New York, Newport, Europe, Japan, and Canada, the Thomas Chapin Trio was ready to play Monterey in the fall of 1997. Regrettably Chapin was forced to cancel after he was diagnosed with leukemia. Thomas Chapin died months later on February 13, 1998 after he cancelled the booking. He was about to turn 41. His star was gaining altitude, rising to the pinnacle of the Monterey Jazz Festival, which would have skyrocketed him into a household name in jazz. Now, 20 years later and through the award-winning film, THOMAS CHAPIN, NIGHT BIRD SONG, this unknown jazz virtuoso will finally come full circle and "play" Monterey.


For his two decades of performing, Chapin was a force, a player with "massive chops," whose sound was sui generis. He had an uncanny gift of melding all forms of jazz into a single body of music. His pathway of moving sound was so multi-directional, yet singular, so original, yet steeped in tradition, that the jazz community struggled to categorize him.    

Peter Watrous of the New York Times captured his extraordinary power and versatility when he described Chapin's performance in 1995: "Chapin … is a virtuoso … also one of the more schooled musicians in jazz, both technically and historically, and for his set he dug into the styles of everyone from Benny Carter to the 60's avant-gardists, screeching and howling and huffing as if this were 1964 and he was breaking the rules of jazz into pieces."  

Aidan Levy, who knew of Chapin and reviewed the film this year for JazzTimes Magazine, wrote that Chapin was "considered by some to have fundamentally expanded the boundaries of the jazz discourse."

Dan Melnick, a concert producer in the 90's with George Wein's Festival Productions and its Newport Jazz Festival spinoffs that the Thomas Chapin Trio performed for, said, "For me and many others, Thomas stood at the center of numerous disparate worlds of jazz at that time. He was a master of all forms of jazz and maybe proved that these 'schools' or 'styles' weren't so different at all."


THOMAS CHAPIN, NIGHT BIRD SONG, a 150-minute epic tale of this brilliant and extraordinary jazz master, will be screened at the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 18, 2016, at 4:30 pm in the Jazz Theater.

Emmy-winning filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo's documentary tells Chapin's story using the intimate details and captivating storytelling of 45 featured musicians, promoters, music critics, friends and family. The film, which has received high acclaim from reviewers and viewers, 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 1980s in the New York downtown jazz scene. Using archival performance film and video footage, the film shows how Chapin's distinct and inimitable style helped move the music forward in the 1990s.  

The film also clearly establishes Chapin as one of the few artists of his generation to exist in both the New York City's downtown experimentalist scene and in the uptown world of traditional jazz. Fearless in his pursuit of creating an edgy, engaging, cutting-edge sound that pushed jazz forward, he was also tireless and passionate in showing his classical and mainstream influences.

Thomas Chapin was an artist who "was his own man," a "free musician," but whose music resonated loudly with the work of reed giants from an earlier age. He met his life's end way too soon, while his dreams still burned bright and his audiences yearned for more. Today, new listeners and young players seeking inspiration are discovering and playing his music. Thanks to the film, Chapin will no longer be a footnote in jazz. His indelible mark will be known for all time.  

In May 2016 in Nice, France, NIGHT BIRD SONG received the Nice International Filmmakers Festival award for Best Story. It was also nominated for Best Director of a Feature Documentary and Best Documentary at the New York City International Film Festival.

To view the film's trailer:


Stephanie J. Castillo is a former newspaper journalist who wrote for the Honolulu Star Bulletin in the 1980s. She heads Hawaii-based 'Olena Productions and has partners in Washington D.C., New York City, and Europe. This is her tenth documentary film.

Among Stephanie's documentaries and co-production film credits include:

  • Grace and Beauty: 150 Years of the Episcopal Church in Hawaii  2012
  • Strange Land: My Mother‟s War Bride Story  2009
  • Remember the Boys  2007
  • An Uncommon Kindness: The Father Damien Story  2006
  • Cockfighters: The Interviews  2003
  • An Untold Triumph: The Story of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment, US. Army  2002
  • Simple Courage: An Historical Portrait in the Age of AIDS  1992. Emmy 1993.


 "inspiring"..."a masterpiece"..."a coup and tour de force"... "a must see …" "masterful and beautiful work/tribute."

"… an intoxicating story of love and music and music and love. Ron Scott,

"Stephanie, has brought this documentary film to fruition to remind jazz fans of what a potent force Chapin was on the '90s jazz scene." DOWNBEAT

"… the first full assessment of Chapin's life and work, seeks to broaden that audience and preserve his legacy." Jazz Times

Watch for a film review in JAZZIZ Magazine, which will be published on September 1 (online) and September 15 (print).


Reviews of THOMAS CHAPIN, NIGHT BIRD SONG (The Incandescent Life of a Jazz Great) include:

Film Fest International: As the film soars to the heights of Chapin's musical life, viewers will be taken on an amazing, joyful biographical journey to what Chapin called his "abyss of despair," which Chapin also described as as "the realm of the miraculous." Just as he had transcended the boundaries of jazz and music, Chapin tragic end proves to be transcendent even as his life had to end too soon.

JazzTimes: The 150-minute film, directed by Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo... captures Chapin's frenetic spontaneity. Castillo culled the soundtrack from more than 200 live and studio recordings, a piercing counterpoint to the 47 interview subjects, including childhood friends, relatives, mentors and collaborators. ​

Arteidolia, March 2016, Leave Nothing Out, by Patrick Brennan: Wow. Journalist and filmmaker Stephanie Castillo has accomplished a combination coup and tour de force with her documentary on the music and life of composer-saxophonist-flautist Thomas Chapin (1957-1998).  

NPR, March 2, 2016, Thomas Chapin‟s life and music celebrated, film and concert Hartford's Real Art Ways  

The Free Jazz Collective, April 19, 2016: Night Bird Song is a moving film that will hopefully present Chapin's small but brilliant body of work to a new set of appreciative listeners.​


Stephanie J. Castillo is available for interviews at and welcomes reviews of the film from the press community. To learn more about her 30-year filmmaking career and for information about her other films, please visit:

Her film's website is

For more on the Monterey Jazz Festival:

Source: 'Olena Media

About Olena Media

Emmy-winning documentary film producer Stephanie J. Castillo heads Hawaii-based 'Olena Productions with partners in Washington D.C., New York City, and Europe. They produce marketing, educational, non-profit, and promotional videos.

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