Every summer as New York City sweats and steams its way through the latter part of July, a truly cool jazz event holds court at the 92nd Street Y on the city’s Upper East Side. Curated by pianist Bill Charlap, the Jazz in July concert series is held the last two weeks of that month and features a multitude of artists appearing together under a particular theme—it could be an artist, composer, or aesthetic. The series kicked off on July 17 with “Crazy Rhythm/Prohibition!” focusing on the music of the ’20s as performed by Mary Stallings, Warren Vache, Jon Gordon, Ted Rosenthal, and others. A salute to three legendary yet often overlooked pianists—Teddy Wilson, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan—follows on July 18 in a concert aptly named “The Elegant Piano,” featuring Charlap, Dick Hyman, Aaron Diehl and Rossano Sportiello, accompanied by Ken Peplowski, Chuck Redd, Peter Bernstein, Peter Washington, and Kenny Washington.
Hyman founded the series back in the mid-’80s and served as artistic director for 20 years before passing the baton to Charlap. Now in his 14th year at the helm, Charlap relishes the opportunity to combine his knowledge of jazz and songbook history with his affinity for so many gifted players. “All I’m trying to do is find a way to create a red carpet for musicians, while making something that’s entertaining for the audience,” he says. “At the same time, we’re embracing all kinds of different music in unique combinations that you won’t see anywhere else. They’re once-in-a-lifetime concerts.”
Among the other shows scheduled are “Richard Rodgers: With a Song in My Heart,” with Sandy Stewart, Terell Stafford, Harry Allen, Renee Rosnes, and others; “Dizzy: Celebrating Dizzy Gillespie,” featuring his protégé Jon Faddis along with Rosnes and Jimmy Greene; “Leonard Bernstein: Jazz on the Town,” with Rene Marie, Jeremy Pelt, and Melissa Aldana; and “Blues in the Night,” with Houston Person, Melba Joyce, Eddie Allen, and Lafayette Harris. Charlap and his longtime trio of Peter Washington and Kenny Washington will perform as the rhythm section in many of these concerts.
Over the years, Charlap has had plenty of experience as a concert curator, having done many shows at Jazz at Lincoln Center, NJPAC, Hollywood Bowl, and Chicago Symphony Center. He says that he’s learned to direct the series with a light hand: “Only every now and then do I have to make an executive decision about something that might make a show better and nudge it in one way or another, but it’s really about allowing people to be themselves. And finding a way for everyone to be comfortable.”
He explains that the 92nd Street Y venue itself is part of the series’ appeal. “It’s a beautiful concert hall,” he notes. “It was Gerry Mulligan’s favorite concert hall in New York City. All wood. 1,000 comfortable seats.” But ultimately, Jazz in July is about performers coming together to celebrate great American music.
“I’m lucky that I have so many good friends,” Charlap says.
And talented ones at that.
To learn more, visit the Jazz in July concert series page on the 92nd Street Y website.