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Biography of Bruce Chase, music arranger and composer

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(Robert) Bruce Chase was born on March 22, 1912 in Muscatine, Iowa.  The son of a violinist and piano teacher, he began to play violin at an young age and was performing concerts locally by his early teens. Following his graduation from high school, he found that work for string players was scarce and began to play with dance bands, mostly as a pianist.  The bands needed to have their music arranged to suit their instrumentation, and he took up this role as well and was able to churn out numerous arrangements very quickly.

Chase's first widely recognized arrangement was of "I've Got Rhythm," which he created in 1939 for a Pops concert played by the Kansas Philharmonic while he was a member of the violin section.  With this success, he then went to NBC Radio in Chicago and was initially hired as a part-time violinist and music arranger. Soon after, he was employed full-time as a staff musician, arranger and conductor and worked for popular shows that included the Red Skelton Show, Fibber McGee and Molly, and The Carnation Contented Hour.  During World War II he was stationed in the Great Lakes Naval Training Station for two years, where, as chief arranger, he continued to write music arrangements and conduct.

Once his service concluded, he worked for ABC (formerly the "Blue" or radio division of NBC). From 1949 to 1955 he was the staff arranger and conductor of the children's television show "Super Circus," and he worked for other ABC children's shows that included "The Land of Ziggy Zoggo." Chase was the staff arranger and conductor for the nationally broadcast radio show "Don McNeill's Breakfast Club" from 1965 until it went off the air in 1968.

 

Due to the influences of television and tape, the nature of live radio programs changed and live music - on the scale of having a band or an orchestra - became obsolete. Chase relocated with his family to Connecticut and turned to making educational music albums published by Chappell and Company for use in primary and secondary schools.  These included original music as well as arrangements of other tunes and are still in use worldwide, mostly through the Hal Leonard catalog.

In 1972 he resumed playing the violin and auditioned for the second violin section of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, which additionally recognized his talents for music arrangements and hired him.  He remained as a member of the orchestra until he was well into his seventies, and frequently conducted the orchestra in its performances of his arrangements on its Pops concerts.  In 1999 - after Chase had retired and moved back to Connecticut - the Milwaukee Symphony played an historic concert in Cuba and performed his "St. Louis Samba" as an encore that brought down the house.

Chase was active making music arrangements until about 1992. Among his most popular are the medleys "Broadway Tonight," "Around the World at Christmas Time," "A Salute to Ethel Merman," "Symphonic Reflections" (on music by Andrew Lloyd Webber) and "Camptown Races."

 

Bruce Chase was married to violinist and teacher Fannie (Paschell) Chase (1919-2000) and the father of four daughters with her, including violinist Stephanie Chase.  He had two additional children from a previous marriage. He passed away from colon cancer on June 29, 2001 at a hospice in Branford, Connecticut.

Chase was a direct descendent of Aquila Chase, a Massachusetts Bay colonist and cofounder of Newbury, Massachusetts. Among his relatives are Salmon Portland Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury under Abraham Lincoln and, later, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and for whom Chase Bank is named.