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It’s One More Time For The Bill Charlap Trio At The Treelawn

Bill Charlap Trio
from left: Kenny Washington, Bill Charlap, Peter Washington

If you’re planning to hear the Bill Charlap Trio Thursday night at The Treelawn, don’t feel like you need to dress up. Listening to the elegance and the urbanity conjured by pianist Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington and you might think you’re wearing a tux or a designer dress and opera gloves instead of your Browns quarter-zip or yoga pants.

It’s the kind of casual magic that is the product of more than 27 years of practice, gigging and hanging out. More magical still is that to Charlap it still feels fresh.

“The thing is, Kenny Washington and Peter Washington and myself have all continued to develop individually and also develop as a group through the repertoire we’ve played, through the way that we play it together, through the way that we listen to each other,” Charlap told me by phone while he was driving somewhere in New Jersey. ”We’ve learned from each other collectively over the years, and I think in certain ways even influenced each other, which is natural. It stays fresh because we always approach the music with all of our being.”

A Distinguished Musical Pedigree

Bill Charlap at The Treelawn
photocredit: C. Andrew Hovan

It could hardly have been otherwise for the pianist given his musical pedigree. His father, Moose Charlap, composed the score for “Peter Pan,” among other Broadway musicals while his is mother, Sandy Stewart, is a jazz and cabaret singer who made two memorable records with her son at the piano.

After 27 years, the Bill Charlap Trio has quietly assembled a musical pedigree of its own. Keeping a band together for nearly three decades simply isn’t done anymore and was rare even in the Golden Age of the music that the trio often evokes.

The result is a musical approach that is extraordinary polished but never cold, self-possessed but welcoming, and above all, swinging. Hearing the trio is like being invited to a celebrity party at a swanky New York townhouse and finding the guests to be not only smart and sophisticated, but down-to-earth too.

Washingtons Establishment

Achieving this level of elevated, intuitive nonchalance is not as it looks and the Washingtons have been perfecting it for 37 years. In a profile of the Washingtons for the late JazzTimes magazine. Mark Stryker, the author of “Jazz From Detroit,” wrote, “a deeply informed and profound spirit of the jazz tradition pulsates through their work, expressed in personal terms and anchored in the present tense.”

Charlap is quick to co-sign. “The essence of Peter Washington: intelligence, humor depth, the inability to do something that is grandstanding or showing off,” he said. “Yet there is great visceral passion in the playing, and very deep contact with the entire history and great originality, all at the same time.” Of his drummer, Charlap said. “Kenny is singular. His focus is ironclad. He’s a true virtuoso who has a complete grasp of the music from all angles and the history of his instruments. It’s all about the music first, and it’s all about the sound of the whole band.”

Opening The Treelawn

Last November, that sound inaugurated the Treelawn Music Hall at its official opening as a venue in the heart of the burgeoning Waterloo arts district in Collinwood, an event that was both consecration and family reunion.

Bill Charlap Trio at The Treelawn
photocredit: C. Andrew Hovan

Eric Hanson, one of the partners in the multi-part performance space, was Charlap’s artist representative at Ted Kurland Associates, one of the powerhouse agent firms in jazz. Hanson didn’t know much about Charlap before he started to work with him, but the two developed a quick and lasting relationship. “He was always very cordial and congenial and really funny and just a great player,” Hanson said of his former client. “I’ve considered him a friend as well as a client, and as a listener I think he’s just in a rare class. He’s very humble and is really my favorite living piano player.”

Charlap also advised Hanson on the purchase of the nine-foot Steinway piano that, Hanson said, is essential for attracting high-level jazz acts to the former Slovenian social club. More are on the way with pianists Christian Sands and Cincinnati-born master Fred Hersch scheduled in the months ahead.

But Charlap’s trio will always have a special place in the history that Hanson hopes to make in Collinwood. And it works both ways. “I was delighted to open The Treelawn,” Charlap told me. “I thought that it was a beautifully appointed space in a historic building with great sound. We loved playing there and we were honored to be the first.”

If a return engagement so soon after the November concert is too much, too soon for the local audience, it isn’t for Charlap and the Washingtons who always find something new to explore. “Every time we sit down to play there is freshness. Otherwise, frankly, we wouldn’t continue to play together,” Charlap said. It comes from a combination of head and heart honed on bandstands worldwide for decades.

“I always say the heart knows everything that the head knows,” Charlap said. “You train the head, and you trust the heart.”

The Bill Charlap Trio, Thurs., April 11 7:30 p.m., Treelawn Music Hall, 15335 Waterloo Rd., Cleveland. Tickets $25-35, available here.

NOTE: This article was written by a real human being. No artificial intelligence or generative language models were used in its creation.

Red beans and ricely yours,