YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsJazz

Academy instructors make notes in band

March 07, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

About the only thing the four guys making up a jazz/blues band called Blue Chair have in common is that they teach at Mercersburg Academy.

Joel Chace, the oldest member at 54, plays keyboard with Blue Chair because his father played trombone with Les Brown and sang duets with Doris Day. He grew up in New York state and teaches English as the academy.

Paul Galey, 50, Blue Chair's drummer, a New Englander from western Massachusetts, has been pounding on skins and cymbals ever since his parents got him a toy drum set when he was 5. His mother sang and tap danced on roller skates in USO clubs during World War II. An ordained minister, Galey teaches religion.


Tom Rahauser, 48, belts out blues, jazz and contemporary numbers with Blue Chair today, but he got his start singing "quiet music" with a small acoustic group in college. He grew up in Chambersburg, Pa., is the academy's dean of students and teaches Spanish.

Dave Holzwarth, 44, the bassist, comes from San Francisco. He's been playing bass since third grade. His earliest interest in music came from a neighbor, a drummer who was married to Pearl Bailey and played in the Tonight Show orchestra. Holzwarth, who teaches Spanish, has played bass with some big time acts, including Screaming Jay Hawkins and Chick Corea. He's a regular with lead guitarist Larry Dennis' blues band in Baltimore and teaches physics.

All four have played in a variety of bands most of their lives.

Friday night, they played a gig with Dennis at McKinstry House Inc., a restaurant in Mercersburg.

Blue Chair started out in 1991 as a jazz trio with Chace, Galey and Holzwarth playing campus events.

When Rahauser joined the group in 1996, the musical emphasis turned more to the blues.

The band picked up its name from the Blue Devil, the academy's former mascot.

"It turned into Blue Chair because we now had four legs to a chair," Holzwarth said.

Although its specialty is jazz and blues, the band can tailor its music to its audience. Friday night's selections included serious jazz and blues numbers along with pop pieces such as "Stormy Weather," the Temptations' "Just My Imagination" and Credence Clearwater Revival's "Susie Q."

"Our music evolves almost every time we get together," Rahauser said. "It depends on the venue and the crowd. People want different things."

Choosing selections Friday night was easy. The enthusiastic audience consisted mostly of their wives and academy friends.

Blue Chair plays a lot of academy functions during the school year - receptions, proms, parties and some campus weddings - but the members manage to pick up an occasional off-campus gig.

Last year, they had occasion to warm up blues guitarist Popa Chubby at a jazz club in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

They play because they love music, but they keep their day jobs to pay the rent.

Asked how much they get paid to play, Galey said "usually from nothing to a free dinner."

"Once we got paid $800," Rahauser said.

"We'd like to find a regular weekly gig," Chace said.

"It's fun when we play. None of us would like to take it out of our lives," Rahauser said.

"The nature of working here makes it hard to have an outside life as musicians," Galey said. "This is a boarding school. It's 24 hours."

Faculty duties include teaching, coaching and dormitory duty.

"We like playing," Holzwarth said. "We're surprised at the end of an evening how good we are considering how little time we have to practice."

Download some Blue Chair Sound clips!

The Herald-Mail Articles