Photos: All about Bill Charlap: His solos so imaginative and impeccable throughout … Video

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The last time I saw pianist Bill Charlap was in July at 92Y’s Jazz in July series in New York, where he directed one of the most intimate and rewarding jazz concerts I’ve seen in some time.

Bill’s trio backed Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson, two legendary tenor saxophonists who were in superb form that night. Jeremy Pelt also joined the group on trumpet. Much of the concert’s cohesion and success was a result of Bill’s inspiring performance. His solos were so imaginative and impeccable throughout that both Jimmy and Benny would wander over to the piano to watch the magic. Bill was really something, not to mention Jimmy and Benny, bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington.

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Now Bill has released Uptown, Downtown (Impulse), a trio recording featuring Peter Washington on bass (above) and Kenny Washington on drums (no relation). Recorded in March 2017, the song list includes many surprises. [Photo above of Peter Washington courtesy of Bill Charlap].

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The album opens with Gerry Mulligan’s Curtains, which Bill recorded with Mulligan on the baritone saxophonist’s album Lonesome Boulevard in 1989. Bill also recorded the song with Ted Rosenthal on their Gerry Mulligan Songbookalbum in 1996. On his new version of the song, Bill teases out the ballad’s complexity and rich harmony beautifully.

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Bill’s rendition of Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman’s Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most is deeply sensitive, patient and introspective. It evolves slowly, like a blooming flower, and the song is among my favorites on the album.

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Stephen Sondheim wrote Uptown, Downtown for Follies (1971), but the song was cut from the musical and wound up in his Marry Me a Little (1980), a musical comprised of Sondheim rejects from other shows. Bill’s version lifts the song into a jazz place without losing the song’s theatrical swagger.

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The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else
 was a fox trot written by bandleader Isham Jones and Gus Kahn in 1924 for Al Jolson to record with Jones that year. But the standard’s best-known version probably is the one recorded by Frank Sinatra in June 1940 with Tommy Dorsey and the Pied Pipers. Dig Bill’s sporty endings. In fact, all of the endings on this album are delightfully fanciful.

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Michael Leonard and Herbert Martin’s I’m All Smiles was written for the 1965 Broadway musical The Yearling. The show was blessed with quite a marketing push, as Barbra Streisand recorded four songs from the production—one on People, two on My Name Is Barbra and another on My Name is Barbra Two.Among the many jazz artists who took on the song were Hampton Hawes, Nancy Wilson and Bill Evans, who recorded it on From Left to Right, his acoustic piano/Fender Rhodes album in 1971. Bill Charlap here takes the song nice and slow, making great use of space and allowing all of the waltz’s romantic qualities and colors to emerge. Another favorite.

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Bill’s version of There’s a Small Hotel by Rodgers and Hart for Broadway’s On Your Toes (1935) is nothing short of extraordinary. Fully aware he had to take this over-recorded standard to another level, Bill delivers by choosing a walking pace and giving it a George Shearing feel, with touches of Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner thrown in. And again, Bill delivers one of the prettiest song endings. [Image above is the show’s 1954 revival]

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Gigi Gryce’s Satellite was first recorded by Gryce on Art Farmer’s Evening in Casablanca (Prestige) in 1955. Bill works wonders on this upbeat and intricate bop composition.

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Guitarist Jim Hall recorded his Bon Ami on Dialogues in 1995 and Bill followed the following year with a trio version on his Distant Star album. On the new album, Bill doesn’t stray far from the successful approach he used in ’96.

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 by Duke Ellington was written in 1932 and recorded in 1933. Bill quickens the traditional tempo and adds a strong shot of swing throughout.

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As always, gorgeous accompaniment by Peter Washington and Kenny Washington. Their tenderness is really something. [Photo above of Kenny Washington by Johan Broberg, courtesy of Kenny Washington].

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One final note: Bill dedicated the album to engineer Jim Czak (above), who died suddenly last winter. Jim would have called me to rave about this album. I miss him and those passionate calls.

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