Bill Charlap: An Appreciation
By Ted Rosenthal
Bill Charlap is celebrating his 10th anniversary as artistic director of Jazz in July. How time flies—it's amazing to think that just “a few” years ago we were both presented at the festival in a concert titled “The Young Guys,” directed by Jazz in July founder and former artistic director Dick Hyman, a mentor and cousin of Bill. Bill has carried on the Jazz in July tradition with artistic excellence, comprehensive musical expertise, and a spirit of warmth and generosity, making all the world-class musicians he invites feel like family. In fact two of his closest collaborators, his mother Sandy Stewart and his wife Renee Rosnes, are regulars at the festival. This is no case of nepotism, but an amazing confluence of extraordinary familial musical talent that also traces back to Bill's father, composer Moose Charlap.
Bill's impeccable music making and sense of community seem to be a running theme throughout the festivals. Speaking of themes, Bill has continued to create concert after concert of engaging thematically based programs, including thoughtful tributes to legendary composers of the Great American Songbook, as well as spirited celebrations of iconic jazz masters. The vast musical territory Bill covers—from the music of Irving Berlin to Chick Corea, along with influences of classical music, Latin music and more—is emblematic of Bill’s encyclopedic knowledge of the entire history of jazz. And Bill just doesn’t know it—he plays it!
With style, elegance, romanticism, energy and fire, Bill brings an engaging musical, poetic and dramatic palette to his playing— as a soloist; in duets with me, Sandy, Renee, Tony Bennett and others; collaborating with his flagship Bill Charlap Trio, and performing in various ensembles with his musical comrades. As Jazz in July regulars also know, jazz legends often grace 92Y’s stage at Bill’s invitation, including Tony and James Moody, to name just a few.
The Jazz in July audience is a very knowledgeable (and sometimes demanding) group, and Bill has taken great care to honor both the tradition of the festival and nudge the creative spirit forward—a dual commitment present in the music of many of our jazz heroes. I have also joined Bill for Jazz in July jazz piano master classes, where he honors the next generation by guiding and inspiring young pianists, some of whom are already becoming the next “Young Guys—and Gals…” In fact, one of our 2009 master class participants is co-headlining one of this summer’s concerts: Christian Sands, in a mini-piano jam with both Bill and Dick Hyman on July 29. (2009 picture at left, Cory Weaver)
With all of the demands on Bill to program, direct and perform in dozens of beautifully conceived and executed Jazz in July concerts, what comes through most is the respect, support, loyalty and love he shows to all of his musical colleagues, many of whom are life-long friends. The members of the Jazz in July family Bill has created always look forward to being together and making music together. Bill, in appreciation for all you do, the Jazz in July family and I wish you many, many more years of continued success.