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Hear "Uptown, Downtown," the Title Track of a New Album by the Bill Charlap Trio


The Bill Charlap Trio, a fixture of the New York jazz firmament, began making music together 20 years ago.

To celebrate milestone, the group — with Charlap on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums — has announced a new studio album.

Impulse!/Verve will release the album, Uptown, Downtown, on Sept. 8, during the trio’s next two-week residency at the Village Vanguard. Here is the title track, a cool blue saunter in a minor key, which makes its debut at WBGO.

The tune, with its relaxed and swinging feel, offers a fine example of what Charlap has refined with the Washingtons over the last two decades: unforced erudition, untroubled locomotion, sparkling wit, generous soul. Elsewhere on the album the trio works impeccably with chestnuts from the American songbook — like “There’s a Small Hotel,” by Rodgers and Hart, and “The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else),” by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn.

This brand of thoughtful yet breezy historicism has become a trademark for Charlap, who grew up immersed in the culture of Broadway and cabaret, and just wrapped up his 13th season as artistic director of Jazz in July at the 92nd Street Y. It’s no accident that Charlap has been a close collaborator of Tony Bennett, notably on the magnificent recent album The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern.


The “uptown” in the new album’s title could well refer to the 92nd Street Y, while the “downtown” seems a likely nod to the Vanguard, which has been a second home. (Charlap and his trio released Live at the Village Vanguard precisely a decade ago, during their 10th anniversary as a band. The following year they played a Vanguard set broadcast by WBGO and NPR.)

Charlap paid a visit to Morning Jazz with Gary Walker last month, to play a few songs and talk about Jazz in July.

In a statement sent by email, the pianist suggested that Uptown, Downtown captures the trio at the height of its powers. “We've worked together for 20 years, yet every time we play, I feel the spark of our first encounter,” he said. “Peter Washington and Kenny Washington’s individual virtuosity is always in the service of the music... every note extemporaneous, deeply in the groove, and the sound of the band is brilliantly recorded by James Farber. I'm proud to have the album announced by WBGO, the world’s premier jazz radio station.”

For more information about the album, visit billcharlap.com.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.