Night Bird Song: The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin

Jun 9, 2017

Terri Castillo Chapin, Stephanie Castillo, John Lunar Richey at a screening of 'Night Bird Song: The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin'. The film recently won "Best Music Documentary" at the Asbury Park Music & Film Festival
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Thomas Chapin’s undeniable talent could have been enough inspiration for an Emmy-Award winning documentarian to make a movie. Stephanie Castillo who has just put the finishing touches on Night Bird Song:  The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin has another pretty important reason.  She’s his sister in-law.

“It think the film is going to add to his legacy.  It is not his legacy, his music is.  And the people who love his music, listen to his music, that’s the wind upon which he will continue to be known and heard.  The film just fills in some blank,” said Castillo.  As I was doing interviews for the film, I did 47 interviews, talked to the musicians he played with, they said several things that struck me.  One is that there’s been no one like him that has come up in jazz since his passing.  They’re still waiting for someone like him to come up.  That’s how original and how unique he is.”

John Lunar Richey was in Chapin’s New York City based improv group Machine Gun and recalls Chapin’s unmistakable musical talent.

“At one of our gigs at the Gas Station, Machine Gun, there was a sound check, the sound man was a little weird, he had this sax going on, beautiful John Coltrane, but he had it on loud and I was wondering how he was going to get Thomas’ sax playing right.  I can’t remember the song, but there’s one point where John Coltrane goes totally out.  And at that moment Thomas comes in for his sound check and hit every note.  I looked at the sound man and I saw him in shock I looked back at Thomas and he gave me one of those smirks like ‘yeah, I got it John’. 

Terri Castillo Chapin says she found comfort when her husband passed through the response from critics and other musicians.

“People are going to just keep discovering him. When he passed they told me that.  He’s just going to become more known because people are always looking for quality.  That was such a beautiful thing to say to me and to remember all of this time that it gave me a lot of comfort.  It is happening.  Through the film it’s happening.  New musicians and listeners are discovering him all of the time and they’re lifting him up.

Night Bird Song The Incandescent Life of Thomas Chapin is screening at the Bronx Music Heritage Center on June 21st as part of their “Make Music New York” event.