Performance venues are more than places of entertainment.  They are places that renew us.  They are places where we share our enjoyment with others.  They are the intersections of our lives, not from our obligations, but our interests.  In this, they contain the spirit of the times.

One of the legendary venues of New York City in the 80’s and 90’s was the Knitting Factory on Houston Street.  The venue showcased a number of now well-known artists such as Sonic Youth and the Henry Rollins Band, while weaving the popular with the Avant Gard.   One of the exceptional performers who began making his name at the venue was the Jazz flutist and saxophonist Thomas Chapin.

Playing with a variety of bands, Thomas Chapin’s charisma on the stage, the vibrancy of his personality and the lyricism of his play allowed him to communicate with a broad variety of audiences.  He was a Jazz composer and virtuoso who did more than “cross-over,” he transcended.

His songs did not require lyrics; the distinctiveness of his voice was apparent in the diversity of music he played.  He embraced the spontaneity of every performance and adapted readily to any audience’s disposition.  He didn’t simply play music, he communicated feeling.  Through this he drew the audience into the passion in which he created and lived.  When the Knitting Factor established their own record label, the Thomas Chapin Trio was the first group they signed.

Chapin’s extraordinary talent was recognized early.  A Rutgers’ graduate, he was appointed the artistic director of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra at 25 years of age.  Eventually Chapin was compelled to pursue his own music in New York City’s vibrant music scene.  Chapin’s indomitable spirit could not be contained.  Even surpassing all the passion that could be squeezed through his instruments, Chapin’s expressions filled the space of other media in collages and poetry.

Unfortunately, as Chapin’s music was gaining recognition, his life was cut short by leukemia.  He died in 1998 at 40 years of age.   Still, with his extensive recordings and the profound impression he made on other’s lives, Chapin’s influence continues.

Now, the Knitting Factory has transformed into City Winery.  The raucous evenings have mellowed and matured.  The notes are now subtly paired with a variety of tastes from broadening experience.  Yet every new season’s abundance is drawn from the past as if from the deepening roots of a vineyard.

Mindful of the richness of experience, the founder of the Knitting Factory and City Winery, Michael Dorf, arranged a reunion with an old friend and business partner – Thomas Chapin.  The City Winery is hosting two screenings of the recently completed documentary on Chapin’s life.

The documentary, Thomas Chapin, Night Bird Song, is the 10th film by Emmy Award winning director Stephanie Castillo.  The screening, attended by press and a number of Chapin’s friends and family, was enthusiastically received on February 21.   Before the screening, co-producer Noel “Sonny” Izon described the initial meeting with Castillo.  Being a musician himself, he was thrilled with the prospects of the project.  Through the four year process of completing the project he realized, “I thought we were going to make a musical but we made a movie about so much more.  We made a movie about how to live life.”

Through the interviews of more than 40 people and the enlivening recordings of his performances, we learn of the impact of an individual who lived passionately while working tirelessly to turn every breath of his being into beautiful music.


Upcoming Screenings

March 6 – Real Art Ways – Hartford, Connecticut – Advance Screening and Live Concert

March 13  – SVA Theater – New York City – Free to the Public – RSVP required by contacting

For additional screening inquiries contact Abby London-Crawford at


Film Website:

Thomas Chapin’s Legacy Website:

Cover Photo by Enid Farber.


Garrett Buhl Robinson is a poet, novelist and performing artist living in New York City.  His website can be viewed at


Print Friendly

Leave a comment

  • (will not be published)