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Cover Story [Issue # 15 ]
Bill Charlap: The American Soul

By Jason Sklar

The American Soul ( CD Blue Note )
Listen to Bill Charlap on the ONE WAY CD 15

Gershwin once said, “Jazz is the voice of the American soul.” As such, it was only a matter of time before pianist Bill Charlap recorded an album with jazz renditions of Gershwin’s esteemed compositions.

In 2002, Charlap paid homage to the music of Hoagy Carmichael with his album, Stardust, arranging such well-known tunes as “Georgia on My Mind” and “The Nearness of You.” In 2004, he addressed the songs of Leonard Bernstein with Somewhere. But his latest recording rows down what Charlap terms, “the central river” of this facet of American music. “Without Gerswhin flying the door open, there couldn’t have been a Bernstein,” says Charlap.

In the wake of Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin, George Gershwin was able to bridge popular and classical music. He employed jazz and blues to make musical structures that are equally satisfying to the musicians who play them and the public that hears them. Like many, Charlap admires Gershwin for his optimism and stridency that’s part of the lifeblood of American music. “His [Gershwin’s] terrain is the terrain that we play on,” says Charlap.

Charlap calls out “‘S Wonderful” as just one example of a song where “structure is so perfectly laid out for what we do as jazz musicians. It begs improvisation.” With one foot in the classical world and one foot in musical theatre, Gerswhin produced part of the fabric of 20th century American music with the likes of Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue.

“Like Bernstein, Gerswhin’s music is emblematic of the urbanity of American music in that their music sounds like the city,” he says. Charlap plays this music with a deep understanding of its history and a contemporary hipness, aided by Peter Washington (bass), Kenny Washington (drums), and an adept horn line including Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Slide Hampton (trombone), Phil Woods (alto sax), and Frank Wess (tenor sax), who share Charlaps’s affinity and respect for Gershwin.

Who could ask for anything more?

The American Soul
Blue Note

Listen to (Bill Charlap) on the ONE WAY CD

The American Soul Bill Charlap The American Soul

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