A Noteable Misfit
by Bill Weaver
photo by Bill Weaver
“I started music when I was five years old,” says jazzman Mel Chance. “My mother was a pianist, my father a drummer. They met in a church orchestra. She had eyes for a guy that played violin and I guess Dad decided he better ask her to marry him!”
It wasn’t until he’d seen Benny Goodman perform that the young lad found his vocation. “Boy, Benny Goodman could play his heart and soul out,” he remembers. “I went to my Mom and said, ‘I’d love to play clarinet.’ She said, ‘If you can’t practice any better than you did on a piano, I don’t think I’m going to sign this release.’
“Please, Mom, I really want to do this,” he begged. “And I’ve been playing clarinet ever since. I added sax because I wanted to get in the dance band.”
Chance is well known in Brown County for his work with the Brown County Community Band, the Nashville Saxophone Company, as a music teacher, for his swing dance band, The Noteables, and most recently as a member of the eclectic trio, The Misfits.
“I guess the most influential person,” Chance continues, “was Robert Phillips.” Phillips is a legendary figure in Indianapolis where his work with young people resulted in the Indianapolis Symphonic Band and The Phillips Music Guild. “He was quite an eccentric but boy he could play piano. He came to my front door once and asked my mother, ‘Is Red home?’ He called me Red. He looked like some kind of a bag man; he had an old overcoat on and a dress hat with a stained sweat band. ‘Red?’ my Mom said dubiously.”
“Um, Mel Chance?”
“That’s my son, what do you want?”
“‘I have a band, I heard that he plays. Is he home?”
“Well, no, but he’ll be home shortly.”
Despite her doubts Mrs. Chance let the strange man inside to wait. “She had a baby grand. When he started playing he won her over.
“He worked with a lot of kids, showed them how to repair their bicycles and repair screen doors. He was just that way. He produced an awful lot of great musicians. He gave me the foundation for my reading ability as did Rosemary Lang, who was an instigator in getting me to play good alto sax and clarinet.”
After serving in the Navy during the Korean War, Chance was hired by Bell Telephone. One evening a friend invited him to hear a rehearsal band that practiced in the company’s basement. “There were concrete walls, concrete floors. Every time they played you heard the notes five times. Before the evening was over they approached me to be director.”
That band became known as the Bel-tones and Chance led them for many years, as well as playing with the Indianapolis Symphonic Band, and The Serenade. Finally chance brought Chance to Brown County.
“We had been looking for a log home close to Indianapolis” he remembers. “One weekend my wife said, ‘Let’s go mosey around in Nashville.’”
They had a realtor show them around, discovering their future home right away. But there was a problem. “I made a mistake by asking her how much,” he laughs. “We had to put that on the back burner.”
But they couldn’t forget the log cabin they’d seen on Bean Blossom Ridge. A year later they ask the realtor if the home had sold “It’s a funny thing, “she replied, “The owner knocked $10,000 off that house, then took it off the market and went to Florida!”
“Kiddingly, I said if he would knock another ten thousand off I just might buy it.”
To his surprise the owner agreed. “That was the funniest thing I ever went through.
“I thought my musical career was done,” he recalls. “Every place we’d go there were fiddle players, guitar players, country singing. Then Chet Kylander called me and said, ‘You know, my wildest dream is to have a community band.’ So they put an ad in the paper and 25 people showed up! I was director for about six months and then Ray Laffin took over. We’ve been going ever since.”
Working with the Community Band gave him the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream by founding a dance band of his own. Mel Chance and the Noteables is a seven-piece swing band reviving the most vibrant era in American music history.
Mel also plays with Steve Mara and Lou Stant in a band known as The Misfits, owing to its unlikely combination of personality and instrumentation. They met when Mike Robertson invited the Nashville Saxophone Quartet to play at his music barn. “Lou came over and said, ‘I’d like for you to play with me sometime.’ I didn’t know him from apple butter. I said, ‘My gosh, you’ve got guitars playing such wild keys. It would take me forever to learn.’”
Several months later Stant invited him to play on his CD Enough About Me. “He dragged me all the way up to Broad Ripple. He said, ‘I know you don’t know this stuff. Just noodle and do your thing.’
“About a year and a half later he called me. ‘I’m having a CD party at the library. Can you make it?’ We had quite a jam session.”
Soon after Chance learned Stant was playing at the Story Inn. “I said, ‘Honey, let’s go out and surprise him.’ We got there early and it was so tiny you could hardly breathe.” The first thing Lou said when he arrived was, “Mel! Did you bring a horn?”
“Well, I just happened to bring my clarinet,” Mel replied. “I spent the whole afternoon with him and he split the tip jar with me! That was when we started working together.”
Members of New Life Community Church in Nashville, Mel and Jenny Chance feel blessed with their life in Brown County. “I’m going to tell you one thing and you’re going to smile big,” Mel grins. “When you get south of Morgantown the air changes. Pure, clean, wonderful air!”
Mel Chance and the Noteables will be performing at the Arch Garden in Indianapolis on Sunday, July 8. To purchase their CD, From the Top or to hire the band for your event visit their website at
<www.noteablejazz.com> or call 812-988-6649.