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November 6, 2007

Checking in with Alvin Chea

Kalamzaoo Gazette (MI):

Bass singer Alvin Chea of the vocal group Take 6 was calling during a break in a Nashville, Tenn.

“We're recording a track for a new movie coming out next year,'' Chea, 39, said of a song for the film “Sweetwater,'' starring Robert DeNiro and Richard Dreyfuss. The male sextet was also rehearsing for a Christmas show scheduled for the Armed Forces Network.

Those are just two of numerous musical avenues of Take 6 -- a jazz/R&B/gospel/a cappella group with more than a dozen of its own award-winning CDs. The singers have a resume stuffed with work on film and TV scores, commercials and other artists' recordings. On Friday, the group performs at Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo.

“We're all family men and work individually on a lot of other projects, but we make Take 6 our first job priority,'' Chea said.

Take 6's most recent CD is last year's “Feels Good.'' But their next project will be a jazz standards collection, for which they are currently selecting songs. The singers met during the 1980s at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., forming a group that specialized in a cappella gospel. Their 1988 debut release featured what remain two of their signature songs: “Mary, Don't You Weep'' and “If We Ever.'' A cappella groups provide their instrumental sounds with their voices. And as the bass voice of Take 6, Chea often finds himself mimicking a bass guitar.

“I wear a number of different hats, including rooting out the chords of the songs and supplying the rhythm section,'' said the California native who grew up studying piano. “I try to be the sergeant-at-arms and keep the guys from rushing the tempo, and keep them on pitch.''

Some of their arrangements (most of them done by group member Mark Kibble) are stunningly complex, stretching the limits of what six individual voices can accomplish. They learn their parts not from scores, but directly from the keyboard by rote, as in the gospel music tradition. Singer Claude McKnight just might have the highest voice of the six, but the range of each of the artists is impressive.

Living in Los Angeles, Chea is a regular “vocal supplier'' for the film industry. His vocals have been in dozens of movies, including “Spider-Man 3,'' “License to Wed'' and “The Simpsons Movie.'' The ensemble also includes Michigan native Cedric Dent, who spent two of his high school years studying at Interlochen Arts Academy and went on to receive a choral music degree at the University of Michigan.

The vocalists have gained footholds in jazz, R&B and pop, and have recorded cover songs in at least as many genres. The group has won 10 Grammy Awards (in gospel, R&B and jazz) and received 18 Grammy nominations -- more than any other group embracing those categories.

Chea is currently working his way through an online law school program. “I'm on a four-year track, which gives you a little more leeway to have an actual life,'' he said.

Take 6 performed in Kalamazoo as early as 1989, and knows well the tradition of Western Michigan University's Gold Company jazz vocal group. “We know (WMU jazz studies professor) Steve Zegree and he runs a wonderful program there,'' said Chea. “It's so great to hear those harmonies so big and so tight. You're always ready to sit and learn something new.''

Posted by acapnews at November 6, 2007 8:54 PM


Vinnie, I just wantedt to let you know that I've changed my email address. I don't know if you are even going to get this. You probably don't even check this website. If you do, write back. Take care.

Raychelle in Huntsville

Posted by: Raychelle at January 20, 2008 12:44 PM

I am a Take 6 fanatic. I love listening to their music for enjoyment and to pick the voices apart. I have an acapella singing group where I sing bass. I try to mimic them, but I have a ways to go. I come from a family of musicians. My late grandfather, Jacob Carey (bass) and cousin, Zeke Carey were the co-founders of the Doo-wop/R&B/Rock and Roll group called THE FLAMINGOS. The group is known for their stella arrangements; most notable arrangement to an old standard, "I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU" (doo-wop, she-bop). My father, Jacob "JC" C. Carey is keeping the Flamingos alive. These 2 groups especially TAKE 6 have had a profound effect on my musical composing and arranging style. Alvin Chea is the best contemporary bass singer of this era. I love TAKE 6

Posted by: Jacob C. Carey, II at November 10, 2008 1:18 PM

Hey Alvin, caught you last Monday night at the SCERA Shell in Orem Utah. I was the big old guy with the gray beard talking to you at the concession stand where you were all sitting - you signed my program last I think, right before you met two of my tall boys - I have eight kids all raised on Take 5 and other jazz vocal groups. I told you I sang with The Lettermen in 1969, recorded "Hurt So Bad" (#1 that year) and others like Shangri-La and Traces/Memories. I was mentioning that we had a reunion of old friend singers in the late 80s in LA, the year you sang at the Hollywood Bowl maybe? Jim Pike, who I replaced in the Lettermen for a year, who put together our reunion and Christmas album we did, saw you guys sing, sat behind Whitney Houston, and brought home your album Take 6. We all listened to it in his small studio with big speakers and we were all absolutely gassed. Honestly, your bass voice and rhythm makes the sound! I sing bass too, though also did falsetto stuff with The Lettermen - but it is that bass sound that makes the group!!! I have sung in jazz quartets since 14, always after The Four Freshmen style and some of their arrangements, the Hi-Los, Singers Unlimited, Manhattan Transfer, The Real Group, First Call...Love it all, especially Christmas stuff! It's like pure revelation to me! I sang in a missionary quartet in Brazil for 8 months in 1962, The Mormon Melodaires (three of us were at your Orem concert), singing boleros and ballads in Portuguese, Spanish, English and German - I did most of the arrangements with another guy, some from my memory of the FF and HLs. We found an album down there by The Jubilee Four, one song from which was David and Goliath. So when I heard your arrangement on your first album, I thought maybe you knew those guys too! I loved them!! Anyway, just letting you know again how much we loved the show and your unique place in the music world, and I still think your original two albums were classics, along with some of your great Christmas stuff - God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen! Doug Curran

Posted by: doug curran at September 11, 2009 3:12 PM

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