Bill Charlap

Saturday, May 21, 2022 · 7:30PM

Program included: Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein, Ellington, Brubeck

Pianist Bill Charlap is a two-time Grammy nominee and jazz legend from New York, making his long-awaited first appearance in Madison.


Review by Paul Baker

For his Saturday 21 May performance, Bill Charlap played a 1907 Mason & Hamlin 9' 4” model CC2, with its harp-like resonance.

The audience of about 100 people constituted practically a full house. Nodding appreciatively, they sat in rapt attention, and rewarded the two-set performance with a standing ovation.

Mr. Charlap presented a casual and intimate persona, friendly and engaging, as if we were sitting in his living room. He told stories about songs and songwriters, asked for requests, and told jokes.

Mr. Charlap embodies the mid-century Broadway songbook. He performed tunes by composers Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Rogers and Hammerstein, Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini, Vernon Duke, Dave Brubeck, and Jule Styne.

His set list included I'll Take Manhattan, How About You, Blues in the Night, All the Things You Are, Easy to Love, Love for Sale, You're the Top, Over the Rainbow, Ellington's Reflections in D, Moon River, All Through the Night, Beginning to See the Light, Brubeck's Take Five and The Duke, Just in Time, The Way You Look Tonight.

Mr. Charlap is a gifted improviser with encyclopedic knowledge of popular songs and Broadway tunes, focusing on the 1940s and 1950s. He's a master of the instrument, with a light touch and easy command of sophisticated harmonies and voicings, an orchestra unto himself. He employed frequent changes in key and tempo, developing each tune into a mini-suite. His hands are capable of volcanic velocity, playing at double, triple, quadruple time.

In his playing I detected influences of pianists Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson, Earl Hines, George Shearing, and Teddy Wilson.

This was a successful and impressive event.

Paul Baker is the host of “Listen Adventurously,” a program of contemporary and 20th-Century classical music, streaming Mondays 5am to 8am at and over the air at 89.9 FM, Madison.