By EILEEN CASEY
Hamptons.com, August 2008
Sag Harbor – Grammy nominated pianist Judy Carmichael has released a new C.D. entitled “Southern Swing.” Carmichael, a well-known East End resident, is one of the world’s leading interpreters of stride piano and swing.
Count Basie nicknamed her “Stride,” acknowledging the command with which she plays this technically and physically demanding jazz piano style. Another early fan, Sarah Vaughan, encouraged her to record her first ensemble album, which she did with members of the Basie band.
Stride is defined as “A two-fisted technique, in which the left hand pounds out a percussive rhythm, thus largely eliminating the need for a traditional bass/drums accompaniment.” Its most famous practitioner was Fats Waller, and it was he that Carmichael turned to for a big part of her material, along with George Gershwin (much of whose material demands this style of playing if done on solo piano).
A native of California, Carmichael moved to New York in the early 1980s. She has toured for the United States Information Agency throughout India, Portugal, Brazil and Singapore. In 1992 Carmichael was the first jazz musician sponsored by the United States Government to tour China.
Carmichael has played in a variety of venues from Carnegie Hall, to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice (the first concert ever presented by the museum) to programs with Joel Grey, Michael Feinstein, Steve Ross and the Smothers Brothers. In addition, Carmichael has done comic skits and performed her music on radio and TV and performed private recitals for everyone from Rod Stewart and Robert Redford to former President Bill Clinton and Gianni Agnelli.
Carmichael is one of a handful of musicians who approach jazz from a perspective of its entire history. Choosing to study jazz piano from its early roots on, she explores the music deeply. The National Endowment for the Arts rewarded Carmichael’s knowledge of jazz piano with a major grant to present early jazz greats on film and to discuss the history and development of jazz piano with college students across the country.
Carmichael’s Grammy-nominated recording “Two Handed Stride” teamed her with four giants of jazz from the Count Basie Orchestra, Red Callendar, Harold Jones, Freddie Green and Marshall Royal. She has written two books on stride piano and numerous articles on the subject of jazz. She has also served on a variety of music panels at the National Endowment for the Arts and is one of the few jazz pianists honored as a Steinway Artist.
Carmichael also hosts and produces her own Public Radio Show “Judy Carmichael’s Jazz Inspired,” broadcast on over 170 stations throughout North America and abroad and on NPR’s Sirius Satellite channel. She is also the host and producer of “PetStyle Radio with Judy Carmichael” on PetStyle.com.
Catching up with this busy lady, who is also an avid tennis player, she answered a few questions:
What inspired you to record this C.D. at this time?
Judy Carmichael: This is a live recording for the Australian Broadcast Corporation recorded for broadcast in Australia of a concert I did at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz in November 2007. It’s very loose and includes my anecdotes from the stage, so the listener gets a sense of being at a concert. I’ve released live recordings before, but never with the talking between tunes, so this is exactly what happened at the concert, so it’s very different than a typical C.D.
Can you address any particular tracks on the C.D. and what they represent to you?
JC: I like “If Dreams Come True” because it’s a tribute to one of my favorite Billie Holiday/Lester Young/Teddy Wilson recordings.
Did you collaborate with anyone new on this C.D.?
JC: Two Aussie musicians I’d never met previous to walking on stage to play together: Stephen Grant and John Scurrey.
How many C.D.s have you released prior to this one?
Any upcoming gigs that you are looking forward to?
JC: Yes, many! I’m playing in London for two weeks starting Aug. 13. I’m at the Carlyle in Manhattan this weekend, and then a concert for the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk at Arundel Castle in West Sussex England on Aug. 24 (and 7,000 of their closest friends!). I’m then touring Brazil for three weeks with my septet (the largest group I’ve ever assembled). We’ll all come back to New York together to record a new C.D. called “Come and Get It.” I’ll sing on record for the first time, on more than half the songs.
I’m also looking forward to the annual fundraiser Ted Conklin hosts at the American Hotel for my not-for-profit Jazz Inspired, Inc. which supports my Public Radio Show “Jazz Inspired” and educational programs I present in schools around the country. Conklin gives a beautiful champagne luncheon on Sept. 21 at 12 noon and I’ll play a short recital with my new favorite Aussie musician who will be on the new C.D. – Dave Blenkhorn, guitar.
Locally, can you discuss your involvement with the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor?
I’ve always loved Bay Street and been fortunate enough to have performed there a number of times. I’m bringing my quartet for a concert there on Oct. 4 and will launch another project Thanksgiving weekend. There will be more to come but I can’t quite discuss it yet.