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Bill Charlap: “I’m Not a Composer”

Pianist Bill Charlap seeks and finds himself in the jazz songbook

Bill Charlap, artistic director of the Jazz in July concert series at 92nd Street Y in NYC (photo by Philippe Levy-Stab)
Bill Charlap (photo by Philippe Levy-Stab)

The new millennium has been a period of worldwide experimentation within the jazz art form. This energy is healthy. Jazz must innovate, or it will stagnate. But when you hear an album like Bill Charlap’s Grammy-nominated Uptown, Downtown, you realize that creative breakthroughs can also occur in the context of, and because of, the inspiration of the great jazz tradition.

“Style” can be a neutral term, meaning simply “approach” or “manner.” But style of surpassing grace and proportion, as practiced by Charlap, becomes art in itself. He is often described as a “mainstream” piano player, but his own understanding is that, as he puts it, “All art is about being yourself, about being driven and guided by your truest inner voice. I’m not feeling responsible to be the custodian of anything. There’s a grand line that goes from Joplin to Jarrett and the present day. For me, it’s about feeling the whole language and finding my way within it. And I love the songwriters. It’s just natural to me. I grew up watching these songs being written.”

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