Bill Chase was born William Edward Chiaiese on October 20, 1934 to an Italian-American family in Boston, Massachusetts; his parents John and Emily changed their name to Chase, realizing Chiaiese was difficult to pronounce. Bill's father had played trumpet in the Gillette Marching Band and encouraged his son's musical interests, which included a flirtation with violin and drums. In his mid-teens Bill settled on the trumpet. While still in high school, in 1950 Chase attended his first Stan Kenton concert—featuring Maynard Ferguson on high note solos—and Bill was hooked from then on. After graduating from high school, he studied classical trumpet at the New England Conservatory, but soon switched to the Schillinger House Of Music, now known as Berklee School of Music. Chase's primary instructors were Armando Ghitalla, John Coffey and Herb Pomeroy.
Chase played lead trumpet with Maynard Ferguson in 1958 and Stan Kenton in 1959, and during the 1960s, played lead trumpet in Woody Herman's Thundering Herd. Recordings of the Herman band from that time period, including Woody's Winners, Live in Antibes, Encore, 1963, My Kind of Broadway, Blue Flame, Live in Seattle, Somewhere, Live at Newport 1966, Heavy Exposure, Woody Herman & the Fourth Herd, and Jazz Hoot are considered some of the most exciting in the Herman discography. The band also filmed several television appearances for the program Jazz Casual. One of Chase's original charts from this period, "Camel Walk," was published in Downbeat magazine.
Chase (the band) released their debut album Chase in April 1971. Bill Chase was joined by Ted Piercefield, Alan Ware, and Jerry Van Blair, three veteran jazz trumpeters who were also adept at vocals and arranging. They were backed up by a rhythm section consisting of Phil Porter on keyboards, Angel South on guitar, Dennis Johnson on bass, and Jay Burrid on percussion. Rounding out the group was Terry Richards, who was featured as lead vocalist on the first album. The album contains Chase's best-known song, "Get It On," released as a single that spent thirteen weeks on the charts beginning in May 1971. The song features what Jim Szantor of Downbeat magazine called "the hallmark of the Chase brass—complex cascading lines; a literal waterfall of trumpet timbre and technique." The band received a Best New Artist Grammy nomination, but was edged out by rising star Carly Simon.
Chase released their second album, Ennea, in March 1972; the album's title is the Greek word for nine, a reference to the nine band members. The original lineup changed midway through the recording sessions, with Gary Smith taking over on drums and G. G. Shinn replacing Terry Richards on lead vocals. Although the first Chase album sold nearly 400,000 copies, Ennea was not as well received by the public. One likely reason was a shift away from trumpet sections. As Bill Chase put it in a Downbeat interview, "I don't want people to be heavily conscious of a trumpet section. They should just hear good things, but not be clobbered over the head with brass." A single, "So Many People," received some radio play, but the side-two-filling "Ennea" suite, with its tightly chorded jazz arrangements and lyrics based on Greek mythology, was less radio-friendly.
Following an extended hiatus, Chase reemerged early in 1974 with the release of Pure Music, their third album. Featuring a new lineup, yet keeping the four-trumpet section headed by Bill Chase, the group moved further from the rock idiom, and became more focused on jazz. Variety magazine called Pure Music "probably Chase's most commercial effort, and their brand of jazz could have a commercial impact." The songs were written by Jim Peterik of the Ides of March, who also sings on two songs on the album, backing up singer and bassist Dartanyan Brown.
Chase's work on a fourth studio album in mid-1974 came to an end on August 9, 1974. While en route to a scheduled performance at the Jackson County Fair, Chase died in a plane crash in Jackson, Minnesota at the age of 39. Also killed, along with the pilot and a female companion, were keyboardist Wally Yohn, drummer Walter Clark, and guitarist John Emma. In 1977 a Chase tribute band (composed primarily of the original lineup, and added Walt Johnson) recorded an album entitled Watch Closely Now.
- 1971 - Chase
- 1972 - Ennea
- 1974 - Pure Music
- Live Forever (compilation)