The daughter of trumpeter and bandleader Dookie Chase and restaurateur and namesake Leah Chase, vocalist Leah Chase grew up surrounded by music and undoubtedly good food. She cites her father’s love of jazz and her mother’s penchant for vocalists like Johnny Mathis as influencing her musical preferences – jazz and ballads. As a child, she became aware of her vocal abilities after winning praise for a performance and thereafter she was often called on to sing at various events.
Chase joined the high school choir at Xavier Prep and studied voice and piano at Xavier University Junior School of Music. Singing in the New Orleans Recreation Department Theater’s production of Hallelujah Baby offered her further experience. She considers her first “professional” gigs as singing pop hits with a group called Market and also portraying a “woman of the blues” in a Las Vegas-type show.
While Chase was majoring in classical voice at Loyola University, where she earned a degree in vocal performance, she also participated in the jazz band. The mezzo-soprano went on to study classically at the Julliard School of Music but after a year, she says she realized that the style “wasn’t where I think I live.” It was the late 1970s when Chase came back home and got a job at the Chateau Sonesta, where she spent a year doing what she describes as a cabaret show. When her pianist, Craig Fisher, decided to head to California she went, too. During her 12 years on the West Coast she had the opportunity to sing more jazz. “I’m most comfortable with jazz,” she says. “I like the freedom you have to create.” After the sudden death of her sister in ’90, Chase returned to New Orleans to help out at her mother’s restaurant, Dookie Chase, “It was time to come back – it was good to have my daughter around family.” She got back into singing again when Dolores Marsalis, the wife of pianist Ellis Marsalis, asked if she would perform at a program for St. Mary’s High School. Afterward, Dolores said, “You really ought to be doing this.” She has been back on the scene ever since, leading groups filled with New Orleans’ finest. Chase is also an adjunct professor at Loyola and Tulane universities and the University of New Orleans, as well as being involved with Delfeayo Marsalis’ children’s theatre program.
Leah is a staple of the New Orleans music fabric, performing with such luminaries as Michael Pellera, Philip Manuel, Harry Shearer, Jesse Boyd, Larry Sieberth, Matt Lemmler, and Ed Petersen. She can be heard at the Windsor Court Hotel, Sweet Lorraine’s, Snug Harbor, and notable festivals such as the French Quarter Fest and the Jazz and Heritage Festival.
After Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures, she, along with pianists David Torkanowski and Tom McDermott and clarinetist Evan Christopher were invited by the French Ministry of Culture to perform in Paris and throughout France.
Her sense of humor blends with her inimitable stagecraft and vocal skills, rending her one of jazz’s most sought-after vocalists.