Eleonor Bindman - Concert Pianist & Piano Teacher
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Gershwin Is Played, and a Torch Is Passed

Eleonor Bindman and Ted Rosenthal on Tuesday at the Jazz in July concert at the 92nd Street Y.

By NATE CHINEN
Published: July 21, 2005

Bill Charlap faced unusually high expectations as he took the stage on Tuesday night at the 92nd Street Y. It was his first appearance as artistic director of Jazz in July, a concert series that thrived for 20 years under the aegis of his fellow pianist and mentor Dick Hyman.

That Mr. Hyman, who is 78, hand-picked Mr. Charlap, who's approaching 40, only heightened the anticipation; over the years, the series has been steadfast both in tone (accessible erudition) and allegiance (traditional jazz, meaning prewar), and most of its patrons would keep it that way. So Mr. Charlap began this George Gershwin tribute, the first of six thematic concerts, with a modest overture.

Together with his regular trio-mates, Peter Washington and Kenny Washington on bass and drums, he played a brisk "Who Cares?," barely embellishing the theme.

The Gershwin angle helped Mr. Charlap considerably. The pianist has a new album called "Bill Charlap Plays George Gershwin: The American Soul" (Blue Note), and the depth of his preparation was evident. What's more, the repertory perfectly suited this sold-out house; when Mr. Charlap introduced the ballad "How Long Has This Been Going On?" an approving murmur rustled through the room. The pianist justified this response by gently teasing out the melody's natural dissonances and adding a subtly bluesy touch.

He applied similar techniques to another ballad, "Our Love Is Here to Stay," although in that case he was supporting the burnished vocals of his mother, Sandy Stewart. ("Love Is Here to Stay" is the title of Mr. Charlap and Ms. Stewart's duet record, which Blue Note will release in the fall.)

With a nod toward Gershwin's expansiveness, Mr. Charlap varied the concert's musical settings, at times removing himself from the picture. For part of the first half, he yielded the piano bench to Ted Rosenthal, whose embroidery of "I Loves You Porgy" seemed almost rococo after his host's plainspoken lyricism. Then Mr. Rosenthal and Mr. Charlap faced each other onstage for some variations on "I Got Rhythm," rifling through jazz piano styles in an idiomatic exercise that highlighted the absence of Mr. Hyman.

Fortunately, this was followed after intermission by some Gershwin transcriptions performed by the concert pianist Eleonor Bindman, whom Mr. Charlap introduced as a high school classmate. Ms. Bindman brought a light precision to "Liza" - which had served as a showcase for the quicksilver brushwork of Mr. Washington in the concert's first half - and then paired off with Mr. Rosenthal on "Three Preludes for Piano." From offstage, Mr. Charlap seemed to be reinforcing a silent point: that even the orchestrated Gershwin is jazzy, with syncopation fluttering in the music's DNA.

Finally Mr. Charlap trotted out the horn arrangements from his album, as if he'd been building up to them all along. His septet, featuring the saxophonists Houston Person and Jon Gordon, the trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and the trombonist Jim Pugh, breezed through a handful of tunes in a cool, brightly boppish vein. The round robin of single-chorus solos didn't allow for much stretching out, but it was plenty progressive for Jazz in July. Closing with "Nice Work if You Can Get It" - an appropriate sentiment - Mr. Charlap earned his applause.