Wednesday, February 4, 2015


On a cozy, intimate winter Tuesday evening, I decided to attend the first of four special concerts put on by JAZZ FM 91.1 that dedicates itself to the art of solo piano.   For the inaugural concert, none other than the contemporary great pianist Bill Charlap took the stage, performing to an audience that was captivated and attentive throughout the duration of his set.

The concert had the feel of being in an upscale Manhattan jazz club, without the need to spend money on a trip to New York to catch in all of the great sights and sounds of the city.   

To give you a background, Bill Charlap comes from a very musical family that is prominent in both the cabaret and Broadway world.   Bill’s father, lyricist Moose Charlap, is well known for writing lyrics to the musical version of “Peter Pan” and other Broadway hits.   Bill’s mother, the cabaret singer Sandy Stewart, is known for her intimate performances of the great torch songs of old in her native New York.

His entire set was a rich encyclopedia of the great wealth of music produced via the “Great American Songbook”.    Bill takes each song, both familiar and obscure, and makes it unique, adaptable, and breathes his own voice into its interpretations.    Opening with a take on “Easy Living”, he blends in stride, shimmers of Bill Evans, and his phrases are succinct and to the point which leaves the audience wanting more.   On his highlighted take on “April in Paris”, he adapts the classic Count Basie arrangement into a solo setting, incorporating the famous “Pop Goes The Weasel” quotes and the climatic ending, treating the piano like a complete orchestra.

What I appreciate about Bill Charlap’s approach to the Great American Songbook and to jazz is that he adapts and plays music that people wouldn’t normally hear in a jazz context yet it surprisingly works effectively in such a setting.   “Riverboat Shuffle” brought elements of ragtime, boogie-woogie and stride into the forefront, making it into an exciting performance.   “When We’re Young” is molded into a spirited waltz full of life and excitement that makes the listener want to dance and be caught up in the moment.   “That’s Entertainment” brings an unlikely choice for a jazz treatment and treats it with such joy and vivacity that it will surely make listeners want to discover that song anew.

Bill Charlap’s concert was truly a masterclass and an example of great command of the piano, adaptability to various styles and techniques of the piano, and complete knowledge and total respect of the classic repertoire that he has studied so well.   It really helps to have parents in the cabaret and Broadway fields to rear him in the good qualities of music so that one day it can be shared throughout attentive listeners and the world.     The concert was a night of sheer music heaven to cap of an intimate night out.


(Myself and Bill Charlap)

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