Judy Carmichael: Can You Love Once More?

Dan's Papers
September 9, 2016
By Daniel Koontz

If you haven’t been keeping tabs on Sag Harbor’s Judy Carmichael for the last few years, you might be in for a big surprise when you listen to her new CD. Called Can You Love Once More?, this recording is in some ways a wild departure for the veteran stride pianist. First of all, there’s no stride on this disc. In fact, we don’t hear Carmichael touch the piano anywhere on here. But don’t despair. Because instead of Carmichael’s jaunty playing, we hear 12 new songs, each exploring a different classic jazz genre, with lyrics by Carmichael herself and music by her longtime saxophonist Harry Allen. Carmichael sings—she’s been showcasing her vocal chops for a while now, so that’s nothing too new—while surrendering the piano bench to Mike Renzi, who’s on loan from Tony Bennett’s band. The result doesn’t sound like a wild departure; the timeless-sounding songs and the agile band make it seem like Carmichael’s been doing this all along.

As a lyricist, Carmichael alternates between sweet sincerity—with heartfelt songs about young love or the joys of spring—and witty humor—with David Frishberg-like songs about romantic mishaps or cooling ardor. Coupled with Allen’s stylistic eclecticism, the result is a pleasing variety of thoughts and moods. What unites it all is Carmichael’s warm singing, plus a decidedly old fashioned sense of craft and an obvious reverence for the Great American Songbook. In fact, these songs could well be mistaken for standards were it not for some of the more modern sentiments expressed in their lyrics; more than a couple of them even open with a classic-style “verse,” a charming, antique touch.

The set begins on a humorous note with “Make Me an Offer I Can’t Refuse,” a straightforward swing tune that reveals Carmichael’s preference for Daniel Craig over Mr. Bean. Here the excellent work of Mike Karn on bass is featured in duet with Carmichael’s voice. Next up is the jazz waltz “June Song,” a buoyant paean to spring that evokes Carmichael’s favorite season on the East End.

“There Was Once a Time” sounds the first sorrowful note in the collection. This is a melancholy ballad about lost love, and, in an interesting bit of text painting, Carmichael’s singing here gets softer and softer over the course of the lyric—illustrating the fading of feeling while expressing the pain that fading has caused.

From a slow verse moving into a fast bop, “This Is My Lucky Day” banishes the clouds that might have built up. “Take Me Back to Machu Picchu” follows with a witty, Latin-tinged take on a hot romance gone cold. Next, “The One For You” dishes out some jazz soul, complete with an extended, raunchy sax solo and a cool, melodic drum solo by the great Alvin Atkinson.

We’re in bossa nova territory on “An Almost Perfect Man,” another joke song where you have to wait for the punch line to find out what’s not perfect about the man in question—at least as far as Carmichael is concerned. “Pluto You’re For Me” manages to combine Carmichael’s love of astrophysics with her deep Disney experience. (A California native, Carmichael got her start playing piano at Disneyland.) The fast-paced “Meant To Be” is another positive tune about true love.

On “A Lonely Breeze,” the CD reaches its most mournful in what has to be considered the piece de résistance of the whole collection. Allen’s breathy saxophone channels the titular breeze in his sensitive playing.

“If Only There Were Time” clears the air with a return to a gentle swing, and the closing, title track “Can You Love Once More?” is another bossa with a bit more of an updated feel.

The talented, multitasking Carmichael is always up to new tricks, but she’s no dabbler. Can You Love Once More? is the work of a serious songwriter who’s as adept with a lyric as she is with her vaunted stride playing. Don’t miss it!

Judy Carmichael – Crazy Coqs

Musical Theatre Review
Wednesday, 11 May, 2016 in Onstage, Review
By Barrie Jerram

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Judy Carmichael is one of the world’s leading interpreters of stride piano. Her command of this technically and physically demanding jazz piano style was acknowledged by Count Basie who nicknamed her ‘Stride’.

Harlem Stride Piano, commonly abbreviated to stride, is a style that was developed in the large cities of the US East Coast, mainly New York,, during the 1920s and 1930s. It is a highly rhythmic style with left hand vamping that shows off the pianist’s impressive improvisational skills. James P. Johnson, known as the ‘Father of Stride,’ created this style of jazz piano along with fellow pianists Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and Fats’ Waller.

Making a return visit to Crazy Coqs, Carmichael is in tremendous form and her playing deserves to be compared to these legendry giants of the past. Her storming opening number, ‘I’ve Found a New Baby’, is a masterclass of this genre which has her audience hooked right from the off.

Pulsating versions of ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ and ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ give way to the other side of Carmichael. ‘June Song’, a lilting love song for her hometown and for which she wrote the lyrics, shows that she can also put over a gentle ballad.

The set includes other numbers that she co-wrote with long-time friend Harry Allen and which can be found on her latest CD Can You Love Once More? Judy & Harry play Carmichael & Allen – a stylish album that shows her gentler side and contains more than a few gems. The backing combo includes Allen on tenor sax

The self-penned ‘My Manhattan’ was written after she left her native California for New York and extols her love for her new home. The first half closes with a rousing version of Benny Goodman’s ‘All the Cats Join In’.

In addition to her musical prowess, the effervescent Carmichael bonds well with her audience, relating anecdotes and joking with them – inevitably Donald Trump comes in for some witty jibes. Her sense of comedy is also shown in another self-penned set of lyrics – ‘Take Me Back to Machu Picchu’ – a cynical piece that reflects on a relationship that has lost its sparkle.

Perhaps at this point it would be right to praise the contribution made by Colin Oxley who provides wonderfully sensitive guitar accompaniment. Always gentle, even in his solo work, he is superb. There exists a magic that flows between the two artists who understand each other completely. It only takes one word from Carmichael for Oxley to understand the changes required. He is heard at his best in ‘Talk to Me’ where his playing is so simple yet full of eye-watering beauty that reflects Carmichael’s phrasing.

Paying homage to the great ‘Fats’ Waller, Carmichael chooses one of his lesser-known pieces, ‘Come and Get It’, before closing the evening with her take on ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ – gentle, elegant improvisations eventually erupting into a gorgeous gallop.

Q&A with jazz singer-pianist Judy Carmichael

The Post and Courier
Adam Parker Feb. 21, 2015

Judy Carmichael is a jazz evangelist. She has met many of the greats, learning from them and sharing a contagious enthusiasm for American music with audiences all over the world.

She has earned a reputation as a master of stride piano and fine vocalist. She has taken her skills and passions to the radio airwaves where she hosts a broadcast on SiriusXM NPR NOW Channel 122 called “Judy Carmichael’s Jazz Inspired,” which features special musical guests.

Carmichael will stride into the Lowcountry for three performances March 2-4, and local jazz fans are invited. She will be on Kiawah Island to tape her radio show at 3:30 p.m. March 2 and 3 at the Rivers Course Clubhouse.

On March 4, she will present a 7:30 p.m. concert in the same location. All three events are free, but tickets are required; they can be obtained online at www.kiawah island.org/specialevents.

In anticipation of her visit, The Post and Courier asked Carmichael about her music career.

Q: You are recording your show for NPR, as well as offering a free concert while you are on Kiawah. Tell me about your radio show: how it got started, the sort of music and musicians you highlight and the response you get from listeners.

A: The show is called “Judy Carmichael’s Jazz Inspired.” I’m the producer/host and talk with celebrated creative people who love jazz about their creative process, favorite jazz recordings and how jazz inspires their life and work. The show is carried on SiriusXM, and Public Radio Stations across the country and gets 3,000-4,000 downloads a week on iTunes Podcasts. I created the show wanting to talk to creative people in a way that would inspire others to be creative and as a new way for the listener to think about jazz. I do the interviews in person so the interaction is a conversation between two creative artists about process and ideas not about promoting the guests’ latest project. Guests have ranged from Robert Redford and Billy Joel to Seth MacFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Q: You’re a California girl known for playing East Coast jazz. How did that happen, and how did you come to focus on the stride piano style?

A: I was a German major and pursuing an acting career when I got a job playing ragtime piano, something I did as a hobby. Someone played me a recording of Count Basie when he was still Bill Basie playing with the Benny Moten band. I loved it and wanted to learn to play like that and taught myself to do so listening to it and then other records in that style.

Q: Tell me a little about your career trajectory. You started playing clubs as a student, right? And that led to ...

A: I had a few club jobs, then played ragtime and early jazz at Disneyland for five years, and with the encouragement of Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan and a few other musicians of that generation whom I met through my work at Disneyland, I recorded and interest in my work grew. I moved to New York and started playing jazz festivals, producing my own concerts and went from there.

Q: You spend a lot of time on the road (and in the air). What have you learned about American jazz and popular music from your experiences abroad?

A: Other countries in general have a stronger focus on cultural matters — music, fine art — than America, acknowledging its essential importance as part of a quality life. Most Americans do not think art is essential.

Q: Share a favorite on-stage experience, a particularly memorable collaboration or an exciting encounter perhaps.

A: I’m writing lyrics with my saxophonist Harry Allen’s music and that’s the most exciting collaboration I’ve ever had. It’s a new undertaking and Harry’s a magnificent musician so I’m thrilled to be writing to his beautiful melodies and harmonies. Inspiring on all levels.

Q: I think I read somewhere you once met Freddie Green. He spent years in Charleston, trained with the Jenkins Orphanage Band and went on to play with Basie and others. Did you talk with him about Charleston?

A: Freddie Green was a mentor of mine and a great friend. He was on my first recording and we always played golf together whenever he was in Los Angeles, although we got together a number of times in New York. He once stopped playing in the middle of the tune “Gee Baby” when he was with the Basie band at the Blue Note in New York City to lean over the stage to me, sitting in the front row, and say: “This would be a good tune for you Judy!” I loved Freddie.

Q: Surely you have derived inspiration from Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton and other great piano players of yesteryear. What about their music has so captured your imagination?

A: The joy and energy of it.

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.

Judy Carmichael, The Crazy Coqs - music review

London Evening Standard
Jack Massarik, March 10, 2014

From the first brisk bars of I Found a New Baby, she had the crowded room in the palm of her remarkably deft hands

The best possible choice to launch this cabaret venue's new season of after-hours jazz was undoubtedly Judy Carmichael. A slim Californian with a bubbly blonde perm and dazzling smile, she is the undisputed queen of stride piano, a two-fisted art born at about the same time as this beautiful room.

Just off Piccadilly Circus and originally part of the Regent Palace Hotel, it’s a circular subterranean space inlaid with mirrors and stainless steel, an Art Deco ambience that recalls the days when Duke Ellington and Fats Waller steamed across the Atlantic to entertain London’s pre-war glitterati.

In those days jazz fans liked to recognise the tune the band was playing and happily Judy still does. From the first brisk bars of I Found a New Baby, she had the crowded room in the palm of her remarkably deft hands.

While the right handled the melody line and solos, the left played walking bass on beats one and three and chordal backbeats on two and four. A one-woman band, in other words, whose apparently effortless to-and-fro transit of the left forearm was poetry in motion.

Judy also sang a few numbers by Fats Waller, Benny Goodman and Cole Porter and could obviously work alone but guitarist Martin Wheatley added bite to I Got Rhythm, You’re Driving Me Crazy and Love is Just Around the Corner, songs almost exactly as old as his vintage 1936 Gibson acoustic.

“I can’t believe how warm it is here,” quipped Judy at the end of her second set.

“I’ll be in New York and Chicago next week and I’ll be telling them that I took a sunshine break in London.”

I Love Being Here with You: JazzTimes Review

Sept 2013

Known as one of the best stride and swing pianists around, Judy Carmichael is near-equally renowned for her lively, intelligent radio show Jazz Inspired. (Full disclosure: Transcriptions of conversations from that show are available at JazzTimes.com) Carmichael's vocal skills remain a tertiary source of admiration, primarily because they are, at least in terms of her recordings, a relatively new addition. It wasn't until 2008, in the wake of 10 instrumental albums, that she added vocals to half the tracks on Come and Get It. At the time, Carmichael admitted a desire to unleash her "inner Peggy Lee." Now, with the arrival of not only her first all-vocals album but also the first on which she never touches a keyboard, that wish is fully realized.

Carmichael exhibits a truly remarkable ability to channel Lee's breathy invitingness and her befogged insouciance. But this collection of 11 standards also echoes the intense perspicacity of the solo albums Annie Ross released prior to, during and immediately after her affiliation with Lambert and Hendricks. In other words, she winningly blends two of the all-time finest, most intuitive jazz singers.

Like Lee and Ross, Carmichael shows tremendous respect for her fellow musicians—tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, pianist Mike Renzi and bassist Jay Leonhart—allowing each ample space to leisurely stretch out.


Review: Judy Carmichael at Crazy Coqs

London Jazz News
by Peter Vacher, June 11, 2013

I’m tempted to say crazy name, crazy place, especially as Judy Carmichael’s first words on taking the stage were to ask us to applaud its décor. Quite rightly, as this new venue at the heart of Piccadilly Circus is visually stunning, sophisticated and intimate enough for a performer of Carmichael’s class to engage winningly with her audience. And didn’t they delight in this elegant pianist’s command of the stride piano idiom, her laid-back vocals and her cheery interplay with her accompanist, the technically brilliant guitarist Colin Oxley.

Judy didn’t take any time to settle, jumping straight into ‘I Found A New Baby’ at pace, the energy quite electric, throwing cues to Oxley, her stomping foot right on the beat. Judy doesn’t waver, the dynamics just as they should be, the execution spot-on, never more so than in a version of ‘I Got Rhythm’ in which she sought (and succeeded) to replicate the two-piano version put on wax by Fats Waller and Hank Duncan way back. Not unreasonably, considering the sheer physical drive needed for this, she opted next to sing a mellow version of ‘Do Nothing’ away from the piano, Oxley’s perfect chords like a subtle counterpoint.

I’ve observed Ms. Carmichael’s performances over the years in a whole host of settings. Suffice it to say that none has suited her better than this French-style cabaret room, her five-day booking fully endorsed by sell-out crowds whose enthusiasm was unrestrained. Judy is a one-woman force for good; more to the point, she’s a player of extraordinary accomplishment who has made stride piano relevant again. Sings nicely, too.

Come and Get It - JazzTimes Review

By Harvey Siders, 11/29/09

Just who is the real Judy Carmichael? The host of Public Radio's "Jazz Inspired" for the past 15 years? The first jazz musician sent by our government to tour China? Grammy nominee? Author of two books on stride piano? The one Count Basie nicknamed "Stride?" Or is it the Judy Carmichael who finally, after seven instrumental CDs, makes her debut as a singer? Obviously all of the above, but let's concentrate on her voice - a very pleasant surprise she has withheld from us for too many years.

She unveils it tentatively, singing on half of the dozen tracks, but enough to reveal a warm, intimate quality, particularly on ballads. Perhaps her most tentative effort, considering her desire to "channel my inner Peggy Lee:" the opener, "All The Cats," an early Lee success. If the intent was to come on seductively, Judy only succeeded in sounding polite. The very next tune, "Love Is Just Around The Corner," never knows when to turn that corner: over eight minutes of bland two-beat. It isn't until the fourth track that Ms Carmichael finally reveals the true balladic beauty of her voice: "Gee, Baby," accompanied by pianist Tony Monte. The only reason for mentioning the delay is that Judy was producer and executive producer; the decision was hers. Elsewhere, her decisions are as resolute as her amazing left hand. Her introspective, rubato solo on "Memories of You" is remarkable. There's a bit of Dave Blenkhorn's guitar towards the end, but his part could have been phoned in. Arranger Mike Hashim does a great job recreating the sound and feel of of the Fats Waller combo, ca. mid-30s, with Judy capturing her major icon in her stride solo. She also contributes her own chart on another Waller classic, the title song. The writing highlight of the album is another Hashim re-creation, the Ellington chestnut, "Wanderlust," preceded by a Monk-ish intro.

Vocal highlight: Carmichael's plaintive reading of "You're Driving Me Crazy," accompanied effectively by guitarist Blenkhorn. Trombonist Dan Barnett takes a great "talking"/growling plunger solo, and Judy reveals a most pleasant vibrato when she sustains tones. If she was somewhat inhibited in her vocal debut, I believe there's a true jazz singer waiting to emerge. So I'm looking forward to her ninth release.

Come and Get It

April 2009, by Kevin Jones

Australian Broadcasting Company’s Limelight Magazine
Rating 4 1/2 Stars

Acclaimed as a polished exponent of stride piano with one of the most swinging left hands in jazz, Judy Carmichael shows she is a more than capable singer, as with her all-star septet she slinks through the Benny Goodman chestnut “All The Cats Join In” and teases playfully on the title track . Her group, all class London-based guitarist Dave Blenkhorn but none is more impressive than trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso. Except Judy, whose joyful solos capture the spirit of Fats Waller, especially on the inspired version of Christopher Columbus.

Jazz Judy Carmichael Trio

Jazzing it up on the fly by JESSICA NICHOLAS, Reviewer
Bennets Lane Jazz Lab, February 27, 2007

When Judy Carmichael performed at the 2007 Wangaratta Jazz Festival, she shared the stage with two Melbourne musicians she had never met. The American stride pianist barely had time for a run-through with Stephen Grant (cornet) and John Scurry (guitar) before the show, but the concert was such a success that it has since been released on CD. So when Carmichael returned, it’s not surprising that she invited Scurry and Grant to perform with her in Melbourne. Once again, she eschewed rehearsal, and once again Grant and Scurry proved to be strikingly adept at following her on-the-spot arrangements. At Bennetts Lane last Friday, Carmichael would call a tune and a key from the piano, then launch confidently into the melody or rhythm as her colleagues shaped parts for themselves on the fly. “It’s like walking a tightrope,” the bandleader told us gleefully after one high-speed trio number. “It might sound as though we have an arrangement, but it’s really just a hope.” Carmichael is a natural entertainer, and the stride piano style (where the left hand “strides” rhythmically across the keyboard) is a perfect match for her buoyant personality. With the piano providing such a clear rhythmic impetus, Scurry’s guitar role was limited, though he played a memorable solo on Honeysuckle Rose. Grant’s cornet, on the other hand, was one of the night’s most compelling elements, artfully echoing Carmichael’s lines or providing a spirited, syncopated commentary of its own.