Bill Charlap spellbinds in Music Series

By: Soondos Mulla-ossman ~Staff Writer~

When Music Series Coordinator Polina Bespalko introduced Grammy Award winner Bill Charlap, she mentioned that the first word that came to mind when she heard his music was “refinement.” This image was proven true even before he began playing: He dressed in a suit and tie. Unlike most musicians before him, he had no listed program of the pieces he would be playing that Sunday afternoon. The moment he sat before the Steinway and Sons grand piano, he began playing. The audience mistook it for an actual piece and applauded when he finished—he was only warming up. Charlap’s confidence and skill stems from his background and dedication. Born in New York City, Charlap began playing the piano at age 3. His father was Broadway composer Moose Charlap, whose credits include Peter Pan, and his mother is singer Sandy Stewart, who toured with Benny Goodman and was a regular on the Perry Como Show. She earned a 1963 Grammy nomination for her recording of “My Coloring Book.”

The jazz musician went on to form a trio with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington in 1997. The three are now recognized as one of the leading groups in jazz.

This year, Charlap celebrates his 13th year as Artistic Director of New York City’s Jazz in July Festival at 92nd Street Y. Currently, he is the director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.

Charlap demonstrated the true complexity and beauty of jazz piano as he performed last Sunday afternoon. For example, “Tea for Two,” originally composed by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar, demands a rapid sequence of three-to-four fingered chords, scales and bass notes that, all while balanced by rhythmic pedaling, do not drown out the melody. Meanwhile, “Autumn in New York,” originally composed by Vernon Duke, requires mastery of its tricky pauses and pedal presses.

What stood out about Charlap the most was not his performance demeanor but his interaction with the audience. He turned to the guests and asked for requests. Energized by the familiar tunes of “I Wonder Where our Love has Gone” and “My Funny Valentine,” the audience even began snapping their fingers to the beat. Charlap, like all the other musicians to perform in the Music Series at Xavier thus far, received a standing ovation at his performance’s end.

Next in the Music Series lineup at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the GSC Theatre is Kemal Gekic, a widely- acclaimed concert pianist and orchestra collaborator. Jazz bassist and five-time Grammy winner Christian McBride will be playing at 8 p.m. on April 28.