He’s played with the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Phil Woods, and Tony Bennett, but the best way to hear what pianist Bill Charlap is made of is to check out Bill Charlap, respected extender of the grand jazz piano trio tradition, doing his best to give new fire to an old flame. The 32-year-old pianist does that, masterfully, on his latest of three recordings for Criss Cross, All Through the Night, with empathetic compadres bassist Peter and drummer Kenny Washington.
It’s a trio outing, for sure, with kindly and smart crosstalk amongst the players, but there’s no mistaking the centrality of Charlap’s assured voice. Here’s a pianist who swings naturally, without either pretension or disingenuous laxity. Charlap treats classic, yet not overplayed melodies—”Roundabout,” “Pure Imagination,” “Nobody’s Heart”—andspins off on delightful, controlled tangents, technical aplomb and creative spirit intact. For this, he has won growing admiration from musicians, critics and others concerned with music for its own sake, if not general public adulation.
“To me,” the thoughtful Charlap explains, “the improvised part is just as important as the melody part. That is, the jazz starts immediately at the beginning of the melody chorus. The chords aren’t just jump-off points for improvisations, but are more important than that. The lyrics are important to me, too, in terms of conception. Manhattan born and bred, Charlap comes with a solid pedigree for this line of work: his father, Moose Charlap, was a composer on and off Broadway, and his mother, Sandy Stewart, a singer who worked with Benny Goodman.
These days, Charlap is especially happy working in a trio that works, on levels of musicality and simpatico. “ I always thought to myself, ’Well, I’d love to have a trio with guys like Kenny and Peter,’ so I called Kenny and Peter. That’s really the truth. I’d been trying to find that type of balance for a long time.”