Jazz veterans, Bill Charlap Trio forge new directions for jazz on “Uptown Downtown”


Bill Charlap Trio’s new album, “Uptown Downtown” sounds promising on the strength of its title track. The song’s pop-rock/jazz elements give it an edge that can be described as contemporary swing.

About Bill Charlap

Grammy Award-winning pianist, Bill Charlap has been a recording artist since 1993. In addition to making music for 20-plus years, Charlap has also found time to bring music to diverse, and perhaps underserved demographics. According to the artist’s website, for just longer than a decade, he has served as artistic director of New York City’s Jazz in July Festival. The musician also works as the Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.

What Charlap’s recording history and other professional activities indicate is a commitment to jazz. That dedication comes through in his playing style and what seems to be his overall approach to the genre. The result is jazz with bite, streetwise and classy. Charlap and his trio have created music for jazz aficionados and neophytes alike. It is perfect for dancing, or just listening, but the unmistakable pop-rock/jazz elements make songs like the title tracks swing, so dancing might be unavoidable.

In his career, Charlap has recorded with notables such as Wynton Marsalis, Freddy Cole, Tony Bennett and others. It was for his work with Bennett that Charlap earned a Grammy in 2016.  Charlap formed his trio in 1997. The group is completed by Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums.

“Uptown Downtown”

All parts of the trio play a significant role in the sound of the title track. There is an up-and-down feel in the song’s rhythm. Then, what sounds like groupings of triplet notes are played at different speeds over the haunting bassline. Actually, the bassline sounds more ominous when the triplets are played atop it. The drums neither overpower, nor do they get overshadowed by, the rest of the instrumentation.

In the middle, there is a lighter mood created by a bass and piano showcase. After the showcases, what some listeners might detect is a pop feel. Audiences of a certain age might recall the moody, jazz/pop-rock ambiance created by “Moondance” by Van Morrison. There is something in the arrangement of bass and piano in this song that gives a similar vibe.

At any rate, the song is bright, brilliant, and interesting. The piano takes on a few different tasks–it serves as the lyrical line, it swings, and it also highlights the song’s other elements at times.

As the song ends, it is the piano that gets the last word, and the flourish it plays ends the song on a high note, or a series of them, plus a drum roll.

“Uptown Downtown” the album by Bill Charlap Trio is set for release Sept. 8, 2017.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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