Thursday, June 16, 2005
Every year some journalist raises a hue and cry about the impending demise of jazz. But when jazz mingles with the fishes in Monterey, it’s a sign of the music’s enduring vitality.
Indeed, the annual Jazz at the Aquarium fundraiser, which takes place at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Saturday, helps ensure the longevity of both jazz and our fishy friends, as the concert’s proceeds support the educational programs at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
For the first time in the event’s history, this year’s Jazz at the Aquarium concert boasts two headliners. The versatile vocalist Maria Muldaur, a gifted jazz and blues singer who is still associated with her 1970s FM radio hit “Midnight at the Oasis,” performs in a duo with pianist Chris Burns. And the brilliant pianist Bill Charlap holds forth with his superlative trio featuring bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation).
Other featured musicians include a duo pairing the inventive vocalist Madeline Eastman with blazing Monterey-based bebop guitarist Bruce Foreman, and the trio of gifted young alto saxophonist Sarah Manning, who released an impressive debut album last year, House on Eddy Street. The Jazz Birds, a vocal ensemble that performs swing-era standards, and the Aza Trio, who combine Moroccan vocal cadences, traditional North African instruments and jazz improvisation, are also on the bill.
And as final proof of jazz’s healthy status, the Kuumbwa Honor Jazz Band, featuring some of the region’s finest high school musicians, performs under the direction of Steve Wilson.
Still-Rising Piano Star
No one is making a better case for the vigor of mainstream jazz these days than pianist Bill Charlap, whose trio performance was one of the highlights of last year’s Monterey Jazz Festival. He started gaining notice as a leader in his own right with the release of his 1997 Criss Cross album All Through the Night. It’s no coincidence that the CD also introduced the trio with bassist Peter and drummer Kenny Washington.
“I always loved how they played together as a team, and loved their playing individually,” said Charlap, 39, during a recent phone conversation. “They’re both master musicians who know their history and have their own sounds. I thought to myself, ‘I’d love to have a band with players like them.’ Then I thought, ‘Instead of finding players like them, how about them?’ We got together for one rehearsal, and the chemistry was there right away. That record for Criss Cross was really the first time we ever played together, and we already sound like a band. It’s caught right on disc.”
Charlap made his debut for Blue Note in 2000 with the gorgeous standards session Written in the Stars, a session that perfectly captures the trio’s balance of elegant arrangement and thoughtful improvisation. On 2002’s Stardust, which celebrates the music of Hoagy Carmichael, the trio is joined by several illustrious guests, including Tony Bennett and Shirley Horn, guitarist Jim Hall and saxophonist Frank Wess. Last year he explored the music of Steven Sondheim on Somewhere, and his new album Bill Charlap Plays George Gershwin: The American Soul, which features the trio with a dream team horn section of Wess, Phil Woods, Slide Hampton and Nicholas Payton, is due in the stores next week.
Charlap’s jazz résumé could hardly be stronger. He first gained attention in the early ’90s as a member of baritone saxophonist Jerry Mulligan’s band. He’s a longtime member of Phil Woods’ quintet, and has worked extensively with the criminally underappreciated singer Carol Sloane. But Charlap’s exposure to music started virtually at birth. His father was Moose Charlap, a gifted Broadway composer and songwriter who wrote the score to Peter Pan, The Conquering Hero, and Alice Through the Looking Glass. His mother, Sandy Stewart, sang with Benny Goodman, co-starred on TV’s “Perry Como Show” and scored a Grammy nomination for her hit single, “My Coloring Book” by the Cabaret and Chicago songwriting team of Kander and Ebb. While his father passed away when he was seven, Charlap describes his mother as one of his primary sources of musical inspiration. They’ve recorded a duo album together that will be released by Blue Note in the fall.
“Every child loves the sound of their mother singing them to sleep, just not every mother is a professional singer,” Charlap said. “In my case, it’s not something I consciously emulated. It’s the type of thing where I might play a tune and if she’s listening, she’ll laugh, because she’ll think, ‘That’s just how I would have phrased that melody.’ It’s because I’m hearing the words in my inner ear, and often hearing them with her voice. It’s a very lovely project we did together, just piano and voice, very intimate. She sounds absolutely tremendous. There’s no nepotism in it. She’s a brilliant artist in her own right.” Which is something critics have been saying about Charlap for more than a decade.
JAZZ AT THE AQUARIUM TAKES PLACE ON SATURDAY, JUNE 18 AT 8PM AT THE MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM, 886 CANNERY ROW, MONTEREY. $100 ($75/MEMBERS). 648-4800.