Bill Charlap and Cécile McLorin Salvant at Symphony Hall Review – Two Masters Making Big Music Together

Symphony Center Presents: Jazz series at Symphony Hall always brings the best jazz performers to Chicago.  On Friday night, the Jazz Series brought the night’s double bill featured two immense talents:  Bill Charlap and Cécile McLorin Salvant, to perform separate shows with an intermission in between.  However, the two performers eventually were on stage together, at the same time, to create a moment that was unforgettable…but I will get to that.

The Bill Charlap Trio celebrated their 20th anniversary of playing together

To start the night Mr. Chalap and his trio, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (not related), celebrated their 20th anniversary of playing together by performing their take on American standards.  Charlap drew on Leonard Bernstein material that was the basis for the 2004 album which was nominated for a Grammy Award.

The best song of the performance was “Jump,” which Charlap pointed out has nothing to do with Eddie Van Halen, but instead was a Berstein song from “West Side Story.”  It was an up tempo, dancey song in which Charlap showcased his exception skills on the piano.  Charlap’s hands are wonderfully graceful on the keys.  He truly put on a masterclass on playing the jazz piano.

Up next was an exciting new name in Jazz:  Cécile McLorin Salvant.  Just 28 years old, but already a two-time Grammy Award winner, Salvant is a jazz singer with a silky voice that covers all ranges and glides through a song like a kite.  She was accompanied by Adam Birnbaum on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass and Kyle Poole on drums.

Cécile McLorin Salvant’s sound is a throwback

Her sound is a throwback; invoking decades long since gone, but with a modern sensibility.  That style and the mix of songs, from jazz standards to her own compositions, connected the past with the present in very fresh and appetizing manner.

To showcase the new vs old concept, Salvant sang the song, “I’m Hip.”  Which is a humorous song about staying relevant in modern times.  Even though the song was written in 1966, the way Salvant performed it you would have thought she wrote it in 2018.  Her voice carried the song, and the audience, to new places. Salvant is clearly an artist that pushes music forward by embracing the past.

At the end of her set, Cécile McLorin Salvant brought Charlap back out to accompany her on the piano.  This is when the night went from great to out-of-this-world fantastic.  With just the two of them on stage, the duo breezed through songs that were impossible ignore.  Pairing Charlap on piano with Salvant singing was almost not fair.  It was two masters making big music together on the same stage.

And if that wasn’t enough, for the encore Charlap joined Salvant’s band to perform a bluesy romp that was the pinnacle of the night.  The reason being because both Birnbaum and Charlap played together on one piano.  The two piano players improvised together with the younger player trying to match and keep up with the master.  It was a display which mixed proficiency, style, playfulness and humor.  It was a very fun ending to a great night.

To learn more about the Jazz Series at the Chicago Symphony, click here.

Photos provided by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

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