"I had taken the most inexpensive apartment I could find, a
fifth-floor walk up, and rented a piano. I put acoustical foam up on the walls to soundproof it and just played all day. I
would just wake up in the morning and start playing, and the next thing I knew it would be midnight" - Bill Charlap
In Bill Charlap's childhood, jazz legends came and went with frequency through his parent's
apartment. With his father, Moose Charlap, a Broadway composer, and mother, Sandy Stewart, an admired jazz singer, he had
nowhere to go but to the piano, where he began improvising as a toddler. He "grew up" at the New York High School of
Performing Arts. Now, at 39, he has nothing to prove and he's tops at what he does– dig into the melodies of American
standards with such lyrical intelligence that his piano sings.
This spring he played at Village Vanguard, helping the famed underground venue celebrate its
70th anniversary– along with a line-up of other stars.
Early on Charlap was compared to Hank Jones (harmonic language and phrasing), Tommy Flanagan
(poetic elegance), Lenny Tristano (linear movement), and on and on it went. Of course he did have influences, among them Shorter,
Coltrane, Parker, Getz, Miles, Chet Baker, and Bill Evans bebop. And he knew the pianists to their core, from Kenny Barron
to Teddy Wilson.
But Charlap is incomparable. He cares nothing about showy display and everything about melody–
which he says is "the most subliminal of all utterances."
"Harmony is emotional and rhythm is physical. But melody is an intuitive response that carries
us beyond the emotional and physical," he says. Melody is his place of immersion. For him "Melody and lyrics of a song are
paramount, just as important to me as improvisation." He does in fact think the lyrics as he plays a melody.
In his early career he was the peerless accompanyist for high-level jazz singers like Carol
Sloane and Sheila Jordan. Now he sticks with his trio: sidekicks drummer Kenny Washington and bassist Peter Washington. They
play as one.
"Playing with my trio isn't all that different from accompanying a singer. In both cases you
have to listen closely and use your imagination. You have to know when to follow and when to lead, to know when to help and
when to stay out of the way. It's all about listening." And listen he does.