By Edward Kliszus

Tonight’s performance of Bill Charlap at Birdland was billed as a Bill Charlap/Ron Carter collaboration in this. While this was the final week of Ron Carter’s annual residency, a sign was posted on the door indicating that Carter could not perform. Tonight in the Birdland Theater was the Bill Charlap Trio with Dennis Mackrel on drums and David Wong on bass.

Bill Charlap entering the Village Vanguard. Photo copy

Bill Charlap entering the Village Vanguard. Photo copy

Since we lost Bill Evans in 1980, many have searched for a pianist to fill the artistic void. And while there are many fine jazz pianists of great regard, there’s something extra special about Bill Charlap, who I first saw and heard at the Village Vanguard around 2003. I recall that evening, as some fellow musicians and I mused, that we were relieved that the legacy of Bill Evans was intact. From his opening chords, Charlap had communicated an echo of Evans’ harmonic signature and spirit within his own style. Over time, we discovered that many of today’s finest jazz pianists were influenced by the seminal work of Bill Evans.

I’ve seen and heard Charlap several times with Kenny Washington on drums and Peter Washington on bass. The experience was one of marvel, inspiration, and admiration each time. Charlap is, after all, the quintessential, nonpareil jazz pianist. Tony Bennett remarked that he considered Charlap one of the finest jazz pianists in a generation – you may recall their historic Grammy Award-winning collaboration in 2016 entitled The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern.  

Bill Charlap at Birdland Photo credit Edward Kliszus

Bill Charlap at Birdland Photo credit Edward Kliszus

Charlap opened with a sumptuous, gentle introduction to Tommy Dorsey’s I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, leading to a string of some of the greatest songs of the American Songbook and jazz canon. From Charlap’s first chord, the packed house was transfixed by the beauty and richness of his sonic offerings. From the moment Mackrel and Wong joined in, it was clear that three world-class artists were on the stage.

Following the usual forms of improvisation when each member solos while continually trading ideas and interacting, it was an afflatus of jazz expression. The trio instinctively reacted to each other, maintained a sharp focus on Charlap’s lead and cues, and, with intense subtlety, sensitively collaborated to bring the music to life.

The trio performed a slow, gorgeous rendition of Duke Ellington’s Prelude to a Kiss that honored the work and drew out the sublime beauty of Ellington’s creation.

It’s not all thoughtful and romantic. The trio mixed it up, changing moods with a swift, whimsical, powerful rendition of Vincent Youmans’ Tea for Two. Other songs included Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Mood, a smooth, sophisticated version of Dave Brubeck’s The Duke, and Monk’s transcendent ‘Round Midnight.

Charlap is a virtuoso with full command of his musical voice on the piano who, with his fellow artists, lifted spirits and touched hearts. Charlap played with passion, rich cinematic grace, and delicacy, fitting his artistic soul and imagination. His fiery offerings were an elegant, eloquent, creative commentary that created energy and excitement. Whether you see and hear the Bill Charlap trio or a collaboration between Ron Carter and Bill Charlap, hang on as you will experience a jazz event of epic proportions. Their work is the product of giants in the jazz oeuvre, and each musical offering is an improvisatory, imaginative masterpiece.

Birdland Jazz Club

315 W44th St, #5402
New York, NY  10036

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Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Amanda Green and Friends, Take Me Back to Manhattan at Chelsea Table and Stage, and Madrigal Music.