Kirkwood student Chase Garrett finds opportunity in time-honored American keyboard styles
To say that Chase Garrett “tickles the ivories” is like saying Emeril Lagasse spends a little time in the kitchen.
The 21-year-old from Iowa City kneads, massages, caresses, taunts and generally exercises all 88 keys in a typical performance set. The Kirkwood Community College student is also making a regional name for himself both as a performer and music promoter.
“I should have been born in the 1920s,” Garrett told Gazette/Hoopla arts writer Diana Nollen in October 2010. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after I’ve been singing a tune—mostly older people—and they say, ‘You sound like an old black man.’ That’s one of the best compliments I could ever get.”
Garrett credits his grandmother with introducing him to vintage piano styles as a youngster. “When I was 9, I got a little keyboard for Christmas, and it came with two free lessons,. My sister was 14 and didn’t want to take them, so I ended up taking them. I also got a Scott Joplin CD. I wanted to play with my Legos, but my dad said, ‘Make your grandma happy and listen to something off the CD.’ The first song I heard was ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and I wanted to learn it.”
Garrett embraced piano playing with gusto for the next several years and “turned pro” at the age of 17. As his talents grew, opportunities to play around his Iowa City hometown and beyond did, too. Garrett studies music at Kirkwood, playing with the student jazz big band and a smaller jazz ensemble.
“Kirkwood has been good to me in the short while I’ve been there,” he said. “being in both groups really helps me develop my playing style for both big bands and smaller trio type setting. I usually play solo when I’m not at Kirkwood, so playing with others is refreshing. Seeing how different everyone’s taste is in jazz and music in general is exciting.”
His passion for traditional and high-energy piano styles culminated in his self-promoted “Blues and Boogie Woogie Piano Stomp” at the Englert Theare on Nov.12. More than 600 people packed into the hall to hear Garrett perform with Bob Seeley, Lluis Coloma and Ricky Nye. The evening’s success also got national attention with a CNN news feature the next day.
When asked where he sees himself in a few years, Garrett has an ambitious, wide vision.
“In five years I hope to be traveling the world and playing professionally. I also hope to keep my show going and make it an annual event, so I can keep boogie woogie and blues piano music alive in Iowa,” he said.