Written by Mark Schramm from National Public Radio
From the Family Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., it’s Renee Rosnes on the left, Bill Charlap on the right and — in Charlap’s words — “a unique sound that is the sum of both of us.”
Both Charlap and Rosnes — husband and wife — are renowned bandleaders in their own right. When they started playing piano together at home for fun, they realized they were on to something. And so the duo, and the Double Portrait album on the Blue Note label, was born.
Onstage, with the subtle nod of a head or a flowing hand gesture, they guide each other through the music. “When 20 fingers are involved, there’s a high potential for musical clutter,” Rosnes says. “[But] Bill and I innately seem to search for clarity. We always put the music first.”
It’s always been so, even before they met and married. With talent, determination and a Canada Council of the Arts grant, Renee Rosnes came from Western Canada via Toronto to New York. She quickly began to establish herself, working with saxophonist Joe Henderson at the Village Vanguard. Wayne Shorter was another early employer. Rosnes became the pianist in Out of the Blue, the new house band from the Blue Note label, and after that, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and the SFJazz Collective. Rosnes won her seventh Juno Award for her album Life on Earth, and sometimes hosts jazz programs on CBC Radio. She has been featured on NPR’s Live at the Village Vanguard with her piano-vibes-bass-drums quartet.
Charlap grew up in New York — his father a Broadway composer, his mother the vocalist Sandy Stewart, with whom he still performs. Charlap played by ear from early childhood. He attended the High School of Performing Arts, shopped at New York’s vintage sheet-music stores, and avidly re-harmonized his purchases. The estimable Dick Hyman was his mentor. As Charlap told the audience this past summer at the 92nd Street Y (where he artistically directs “Jazz in July”), after he went with his brother to see Hyman play, Charlap wondered out loud, “Could I ever play that well?” After working for baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and alto saxophonist Phil Woods, Charlap formed his trio with Peter Washington and Kenny Washington (no relation) a decade ago.
This month, Rosnes is Music Director of “For Love of Moody: A Jazz Celebration” at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and the Charlap trio is playing two weeks at the Village Vanguard. The last time I saw Bill Charlap there, Tony Bennett dropped in to listen.
JazzSet dedicates this edition to the memory of our dear friend, Derek Gordon, the Senior Vice President of Music Education at the Kennedy Center from 1992 to 2004. Thanks to Derek, Dr. Billy Taylor (1921-2010), and the current team of Darrell Ayers and Kevin Struthers, we regularly present music from the Kennedy Center on JazzSet.
Recording by Christian Amonson and Duke Markos.