Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Jeff Chaz
There is a southern gentleman on Bourbon Street. He is soft spoken, with just a bit of a south Louisiana accent, He still opens doors and holds chairs for the ladies. But when Jeff Chaz plugs in his guitar and steps before the microphone, there is a metamorphosis.
“I don’t understand what happens…something just takes over”, he explained. And what takes over is magic. One audience member, who was nearly overwhelmed by Chaz’s performance screamed, “He’s electric. He could plug his guitar into his body.”
Jeff Chaz was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His formative years were spent in Creole, Louisiana, where his father practiced medicine and French. His father made house calls, sometimes by pirogue, and accepted ducks and such for payment- “My father was a Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong fan, he liked the Big Bands, you know, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. That’s what I was listening to when the other kids were into Elvis and Ray Charles.”
In grade school, Chaz aspired to Jazz trombone. In Jr. high, he switched to trumpet and played first chair in the band. At age 14, Jeff gave his efforts to the guitar for a while but grew bored.
Chaz’s family moved to California and he recalls, “All through high school I did orchestra but got bad grades because I missed a lot of things. I was too busy doin’ gigs, doin’ Latin and Soul weddings and dances. Then I did trombone.”
After high school Chaz took to the road with a Black Boston soul band. “I was still doin’ trombone and we played six nights a week and traveled all over the US. One night the guitar player, who was also the lead singer, quit, so the leader came up to me and said, ‘O.K. Jeff, you’re the new singer’. He worked with me until I got to soundin’ like Memphis soul.”
Still trying to find his niché, Chaz went back to California where he returned to guitar and studied music at San Bernardino College. “I played country for a while… it was like Chinese to me… it was one of the biggest challenges I’d ever had. Finally, I knew what I had to do — Blues Guitar.”
Chaz made the decision to go to Memphis to study with the masters of Blues. He played in little out-of-the-way Black Blues clubs, which led him to performing gospel. He sang Amazing Grace at the opening of the National Civil Rights Museum and won the first Beale Street Blues Award. Chaz has performed with Albert King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Cab Calloway.
In ’96 Chaz came to New Orleans to help organize a project with local promoter Ellis Paillet, who introduced him to Bourbon Street’s Famous Door owner, John Wehner. Chaz recalls, “I walked into John’s office…he looked at me, pulled his sticks out of his desk, and said, ‘Let’s go play’. After we played for a while, he said, ‘I don’t have a spot for you, but I’ll make one’.”
Six days later, Chaz was back in New Orleans with bags and guitar in hand. Within two months Chaz was drawing record crowds and, with Wehner’s direction and expertise, had put together the most exciting Blues band on Bourbon Street.
Jeff Chaz made his performance debut at age 5 when he did an Elvis impression with a plastic guitar. “My teacher really embarrassed me when she took me all around to the other classes to do my Elvis thing.” he recalls.
Chaz has traveled, studied, paid a lot of dues, and finely crafted his trade. It all came together… now there are those who attempt to “do” Chaz
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