|Origin||Seattle, Washington, U.S.|
|Associated acts||Orange Then Blue|
He studied classical piano from the age of five, and began clarinet at eleven. In high school he took up the tenor saxophone and began studying jazz. He later attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
He leads or co-leads the groups Pachora (with Jim Black, Skúli Sverrisson, and Brad Shepik); Human Feel (with Andrew D'Angelo, Black, and Kurt Rosenwinkel); yeah NO (with Black, Sverrisson, and Cuong Vu); and Trio Iffy (with Ben Perowsky and Jamie Saft). The latter two groups predominantly feature Speed's compositions.
Well-known avant-jazz groups Speed has performed with are Tim Berne's Bloodcount (with Berne, Jim Black, Michael Formanek, and sometimes Marc Ducret); The Claudia Quintet (with John Hollenbeck, Matt Moran, Ted Reichman and Drew Gress); Jim Black's Alasnoaxis (with Black, Sverrisson, and Hilmar Jensson); and The Clarinets (with Oscar Noriega and Anthony Burr).
Chris Speed performed on the Grammy-nominated album A Blessing, by the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble; and with Pachora contributed the track "Tirzah" to the Masada tribute album Voices in the Wilderness.
He has also performed and/or recorded with Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Susie Ibarra, Erik Friedlander, Satoko Fujii, Hank Roberts, and Dave Douglas. He has appeared on about 70-80 recordings since 1990.
In 2006, Speed helped create Skirl Records, an independent record label that is described as "an artist-run collective documenting work by a Brooklyn-centered community of musicians channeling a vast array of ideas and experience into new music." Speed appeared on two of Skirl's initial releases (The Clarinets' self-titled disc and Curtis Hasselbring's The New Mellow Edwards).
As a leader:
- 1997 - Yeah No (Songlines)
- 1999 - Deviantics (Songlines)
- 2000 - Trio Iffy (Knitting Factory Records)
- 2000 - Emit (Songlines)
- 2004 - Swell Henry (Squealer)
- 2006 - The Clarinets (Skirl)
- 1997 - Pachora (Knitting Factory Records)
- 1999 - Unn (Knitting Factory Records)
- 2000 - Ast (Knitting Factory Records)
- 2003 - Astereotypical (Winter & Winter)
with Human Feel:
- 1989 - Human Feel (Human Use)
- 1992 - Scatter (GM Recordings)
- 1994 - Welcome to Malpesta (New World)
- 1996 - Speak to It (Songlines)
- 2007 - Galore (Skirl)