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A Bevy Of Chevy

Chevy Chase "won't even give Time magazine" half an hour, so we at Recess felt privileged to get 17 minutes with the guy. He's starred on everything from Caddyshack to Saturday Night Live, but now Chase is doing something different-playing jazz piano with the Duke Jazz Ensemble. The actor and comedian will be performing his debut concert this Monday in Page Auditorium. Associate Music Editor Beth Iams got the lucky 17 minutes.

Students are surprised to hear you're doing a jazz concert.

[Jazz piano] has always been my great love, but it's been something I've done alone. It's sort of quietly been the background of everything else I've done.

How did the idea for the concert at Duke occur?

[Duke Jazz Studies Director] Paul Jeffrey heard me play once. I play by ear. I've never been trained-I can't read or anything. He said he really liked me playing and could he arrange some songs for [collaboration with] his band.

When did you start playing jazz piano?

I grew up with sort of disparate lives-on one hand, I was in high school, prep school and college. [But] any time I had a chance, I was down in the Village listening to Bill Evans, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. I knew every one of them. And they all knew me. They knew me to be an 18-year-old kid who was a great fan. I became very good friends with Bill Evans, who was a great jazz pianist. Listening to him and others made me get interested in piano. So in my 20s I started. My daughters say, "Dad's really only been playing for a year." I only play about once a month, but in this last year I've been playing quite a bit-every day. I guess you could say I've been playing since college, but only really concentrating on piano in the past two years.

Are you nervous at all to be playing your first ever jazz concert?

Very nervous. Extremely (laughs).

Jazz is one of many hats you've worn.

Yeah, but this is one nobody's really known about.

Any plans to tour? Make an album?

No, I haven't thought about it. I am very busy-I've got three daughters, I have movie, television projects-stuff like that. The next big project is my own sitcom. I'm sick of all the ones that are on the air. I can't watch them....

Do you still watch SNL?

No. I don't watch it much. [But] I've never not liked it. I've always thought it was one of the oddest shows ever on television. And I'm one of the founders -the first head writer for the first year. I've always been interested in how it's played out. I don't subscribe to the prevalent theory that SNL was only great when me and John Belushi and Dan Akroyd and Gilda [Radner]-the legends-were on there, because I think it's not fair for those casts who've been on since. But I'd say we were pretty good.

Are you excited to come to Duke?

I'm looking very much forward to it-I hope I get to meet the [basketball] team. They're all great-I'd love to see them, see the facilities. And I hear Tom Selleck is down there....

What can people expect from you next Monday? Any comedy?

Not with the piano. Unless I play it as badly as I can, then it would be a joke. The program will be us, me playing and then [we'll have] a question and answer period. Students generally ask about Caddyshack and Fletch. It's fun to answer them-that's where I'm funny. They'll get me-they'll get Chevy Chase. And if they enjoy the music, that'll be good, too. But this is not about going to hear a comedian play the piano. It's an evening with me-I'm not a stand-up comic, but I'm pretty damn funny. Part of the evening's gonna be devoted to that.

By the way, for the celebrity name-dropping meter: Chevy hit about 20 in the course of our conversation.

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