Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sloane On Charlap

***** A vision of a man or woman bending over a miniature platform on which sits a tiny vice firmly grasping the back of watch. He or she will painstakingly assemble and synchronize integral parts, to be assembled with infinite patience and enviable dexterity to create a beautiful and valuable time-piece. The work room is softly-lit and very quiet; there is little verbal communication or light-hearted banter among these artisans as they concentrate on the formidable task at hand.

***** A loupe is firmly embedded in one eye; dainty, miniaturized tweezers, grippers, hammers and tiny rotation devices are arrayed before the technician, these to be added one by one and in proper order to the back of the watch. The finished product will contain up to fifty or more quite different but absolutely essential items including: a click, a click spring, a yoke spring, a train bridge, a clutch bridge, a barrel bridge, a third wheel, an upper third wheel, a transmission wheel (which is the crown wheel), a ratchet wheel, a set wheel, a minute wheel, a center wheel, a balance wheel, an escape wheel, an upper escape wheel, a forth wheel, the center shaft and cannon pinion, a lower forth wheel pivot/hole jewel, the all-important hour wheel, and many other parts including the vital hair-spring stud and balance cock. These combined components constitute the heart-beat of any of the world's most famous and valuable watches such as a Breitling or a Patek Philippe rather than a Mickey Mouse, although I'm sure these days Mickey's famous image adorns a watch much more sophisticated and costly than the throw-away version I proudly wore on my childish wrist.

***** I was thinking of the inner-workings of a fine watch and its intricate, arcane calibrations as I listened to the Bill Charlap Trio a few weeks ago during a performance at the comfortable Cambridge/Boston jazz club called The Regatta Bar. Like a mechanism containing the most exquisite elements, all synchronized, polished and dependent each upon the other to insure utmost, pin-point accuracy, Bill, his bass player Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, are the apotheosis of the craftsmanship required to produce a truly superb, flawless piece of living art: jazz improvisation at its ultimate best.

***** Bill's repertoire is vast and varied so that at any given performance, one might hear the trio play compositions by George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, Benny Carter, Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill, Richard Rodney Bennett, Chick Corea, Duke Ellington, Vernon Duke or Leonard Bernstein. Bill plays with prodigious technique and astonishing improvisational skills. The audience at the club the night I heard him gave the impression they are his most loyal fans: those who collect his recorded works, music scholars, music students, colleagues, and passionate jazz lovers like myself who make it a point to attend any performance he gives when he visits the Boston area.

***** I cannot tell you if Bill played a flatted fifth augmented by a dominant seventh over a diminished ninth (I just made those up) because my knowledge of music is not merely limited: it is non-existent. Oh yes: I can hear perfectly well, and as a singer, I can reproduce a melody, but I cannot read music. I merely intercept, absorb and react. However, over the past seventy-five years, I believe my auditory nerves have remained highly sensitive. Of course, I have diligently protected my adorable little cochlea from harmful assault ever since I found myself in the front-row seat at a rock concert many years ago. After innocently inquiring of my date "Which one is Jethro Tull?", he smiled sweetly and handed me enough cotton batting to stuff a dead rhinoceros. It worked, more or less. But, I digress.

***** The Bill Charlap Trio works as much like a fine Swiss watch as one can imagine. The responsibilities for time keeping belong to Peter W and Kenny W. Peter's exceptional skills are evident from the first downbeat Bill gives. Peter seems to be lightly touching the strings of his bass and yet a powerful, full, rich sound emanates from his instrument, seemingly with minimal effort. Kenny is a wonder to behold. His brush work is sensitive, inventive, smooth and never over-bearing and yet his sound also generates dynamism and perfect propulsive thrust. And the tempo Bill sets never changes. Kenny Washington's time is unwavering. I call him Chronos.

***** When I asked Bill to authenticate the initial date of the trio's origin, he replied:

***** "Kenny, Peter & I started playing together as a trio in December of 1998 ... so, a little under 14 years. The first time we played together is the album "All through The Night"* (save for one short rehearsal before the date). The chemistry was there right from the start."

***** Another important element of the Bill Charlap style is his prodigious knowledge of the history of jazz piano. This applies not only to legendary soloists, but to singer/pianists as well, and therefore I've always sensed he knows the lyrics of the songs he plays. When I asked if he would confirm my assumption, he replied:

***** "Yes, I always know the lyrics. To me, the music and lyrics are a 50/50 partnership, and even though I don't sing, I'm always "singing" in my head when I play. The lyrics certainly inform the way I approach the melody and the treatment of the song."

***** And it's this Charlap approach which reminds me how to sing a ballad. Listen to him play a beautiful, romantic, dreamy song. His intelligent and utterly heartfelt interpretations always have a profound effect on me to the point where I often become tearful. To hear him play is to hear him sing. How sweet and timely it is.


***** P.S. Speaking of fine watches, I recently saw a Patek Philippe Tourbillion 5101R going for a cool $395,000. But, as with many of the world's most valued watches, this prices out in the moderate range. Others I've seen are affordable only to the Sultan of Brunei or one of his relatives.


* "All Through The Night", The Bill Charlap Trio, Criss Cross Jazz 1153, Recorded December 22, 1997. Definitive jazz from start to finish and for a very long time, my personal favorite.

***** SloaneView wants you to be kept informed of future appearances by Bill Charlap which may occur in your area. Here is the site which lists his itinerary:

Bill Charlap Tour Dates

***** To watch a fine time instrument being made, take a look at this YouTube video which demonstrates what it takes to make a Rolex. I think you will find it fascinating.

The Art of Watchmaking

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March 5, 2012

I am obliged to acknowledge that my 75th birthday was filled with many more greetings and expressions of affection than I could ever have anticipated or feel I deserved, but I am very happy to have heard from so many. I thank you all.

I enjoy reading and responding to mail, happy to correspond with one and all. I inherited this fondness for the written word from my mother who contented herself with incoming mail averaging nearly 35 to 40 thick, colorfully stamped envelopes per week. It all started during the Second World War, and the delightful story of the origin of this voluminous correspondence is a major chapter in my memoir, the writing of which swings from burdensome to graceful on any given day. I am still working on the early Rhode Island years which evoke memories of the thrilling discovery of jazz and the splendid practioners whose prodigious talents made such a profound impression on my head and heart.

In the meantime, I have fully embraced the concept of retirement, and with utmost reluctance concede that powerful corporate factions, pop culture, and a brainless fealty to youthful endeavor increase with alarming and steady velocity.

The most recent example of this sort of blatant disregard for past artistic achievement is the decision by the gigantic Marriott Hotel corporation to renovate the public spaces of the elegant Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan, a full-throttle attempt to attract a trendier clientele. With one giant sweep of an oafish heavy hand, Marriott has succeeded in eliminating one of the most cherished performance spaces dedicated to the preservation of American popular music. In addition, it has also destroyed the opportunity for hundreds of gifted artists to interpret the works of our most distinguished composers in the intimate setting of The Oak Room.

We are also left to mourn the loss of the lobby space with its old-world charm and grace, and the Algonquin's famous dining room which once served food and copious drink to some of America's most provocative authors and poets. As a true "cat" person, I must also express some genuine concern about the fate of the Algonquin's beloved feline Matilda and whether or not she will be allowed to maintain her residency. If the Marriott chooses to issue a notice of eviction, I hope hundreds will volunteer to provide a new home for this most gracious lady.

Now, where might we find a suitable new home for the singers and musicians?

The answer may be the new club called 54 Below which has an announced early June, 2012 opening date, and there is a fervent hope that the doors of Feinstein's, The Cafe Carlyle, the Metropolitan and Joe's Pub in Manhattan will remain open, preferrably filled to capacity with appreciative patrons.

As for me, I will support one of the two most prestigious music venues near my home this weekend by giving myself the immense pleasure of listening to the brilliant jazz pianist Bill Charlap, his bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (not related) play jazz interpretations delivered at Genius Level. Bill is at The Regatta Bar in Cambridge. The other world-famous Boston jazz club is Sculler's.