Keith Chasin loves jazz.
But he also loves rock. And rhythm and blues. And he even has a soft spot for boy bands, too.
While earning his bachelor’s degree at Temple University, he was disappointed to find that some of his classmates lived and breathed jazz and only jazz. What about all the other great music in the world, he thought.
“What I quickly found was I wanted to find a way to develop my interest in all kinds of music, because, you know, that’s who audiences are,” Chasin says. “Audiences don’t love one thing singularly. They love a lot of different things.”
He found a kindred spirit in Jon Tomaro, a fellow Temple student studying jazz.
“My first thought of him was, he’s crazy and kind of wacko and very outgoing, and I should hang with him more often,” Chasin says.
Tomaro felt similarly.
“We’re very similar-minded as well as kind of stubborn with each other in good ways,” Tomaro says. “My flaws tend to be his strengths. When you meet somebody like that, you don’t want them to leave your side, because it’s like, you’re a great team.”
A friendship blossomed, and a band soon followed. As the Triple T’s, Chasin, Tomaro and bassist Pat Oberstaedt reimagine songs by the Backstreet Boys, Bon Iver and Thom Yorke as a jazz trio. The band will make its Lancaster debut Wednesday during Happy Hour Jazz at Tellus360.
If jazz isn’t usually your thing, fear not: While the music might not be the simplest to play, Chasin likes to think it’s pretty easy to listen to.
“My rule of thumb is, if I send it to my parents and if my mom likes it, then it’s good,” Chasin says. “Then people who don’t necessarily like jazz will like it.”
Tomaro particularly enjoys the challenge of translating electronic, heavily layered music such as Bon Iver’s “Perth” or Yorke’s “Eraser” to a jazz trio format.
Whether listening to a recording or experiencing the band live, its inventive reinterpretations can sneak up on the listener. A smooth, seemingly unassuming jazz groove slowly but surely transforms into the melody of recognizable tune, like the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”
The attention-grabbing technique has proven fruitful for the band. In November 2017, the group performed at the popular Center City Philadelphia venue Chris’s Jazz Cafe. It was a quiet night on the week of Thanksgiving, and no more than 15 people were in the audience.
But that didn’t matter. Because the right person was there.
Keith Deisner, of Missouri, was visiting Philadelphia to coach Roadie Street Soccer, a soccer club for homeless or formerly homeless people. He’s also affiliated with Peter and Paul Community Service, a nonprofit in St. Louis.
“He said, ‘You guys really are different,’ ” Chasin says. “ ‘You guys are doing something creative. You need to keep doing this. And by the way, can you come to St Louis and play for us?’ ”
“We thought he was joking,” Tomaro says.
He wasn’t. A few months later, Deisner wrote a grant to bring the band to St. Louis as the entertainment at fundraising events. It was validation for the Triple T’s that their approach to jazz had widespread appeal.
The funny thing is, Chasin notes, is that putting a jazzy spin on songs of other genres is actually a deep-rooted jazz tradition. Long before Postmodern Jukebox went viral, John Coltrane put his spin on “My Favorite Things,” Miles Davis reinvented “Porgy and Bess” and Duke Ellington jazzed up the Beatles on “Ellington ’66.”
The Triple T’s recorded its first album in just four hours at Temple University’s on-campus recording studio, Belltower Records, to prepare for the St. Louis trip in spring 2018. The band is taking more time with its sophomore effort, using Oberstaedt’s engineering prowess and setting up shop in the basement of Tomaro’s parents’ home.
Tomaro, 23, teaches special education and jazz at Council Rock School District in Newton, Bucks County. Oberstaedt, 22, is a senior at Temple majoring in jazz education. And Chasin, 22, is pursuing his graduate degree in jazz performance at Temple.
Chasin says the band is working to expand its geographic footprint by performing in new cities such as Lancaster whenever opportunities arise.
“We’re putting in a lot of work, and the returns are wonderful,” Chasin says.