Carmichael strives for deeper meaning of jazz |

Carmichael strives for deeper meaning of jazz

Stewart Oksenhorn

Judy Carmichael has been categorized so frequently as a stride-style pianist that she is surprised and thankful when someone asks her if she actually considers herself a stride player.

“I consider myself a jazz pianist who is heavily influenced by stride,” said Carmichael. “But I’m not a re-creationist. I learned the early repertoire, burned through it and moved on. I’m always changing. But the fact that I do stride at all identifies me.”

Stride is a piano style rooted in early 20th-century Harlem, played by the likes of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson. The style was marked by its heavy rhythms. And while Carmichael no longer identifies herself as a stride player – she calls the confines of the style “too relentless, too heavy, too limiting” – that rhythmic quality has stuck fast to her hands.

“I can’t imagine there will ever be a day, no matter how much I evolve, that the music doesn’t have a rhythmic quality,” said Carmichael. “I’m even doing a lot of ballad music lately, and you still feel this pulse underneath it.”

Carmichael plays a benefit concert for KAJX-Aspen Public Radio tonight at 7:30 at the Aspen Community Church, at the corner of Bleeker and Monarch. She also appears Friday at 7 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts.

Carmichael can be heard regularly on KAJX. Her radio program, “Judy Carmichael’s Jazz Inspired,” debuted on KAJX and some 20 other public radio stations across the country in January. Carmichael doesn’t perform on the program but interviews selected guests about how jazz ideas have influenced and inspired them. The guests for her first series of shows includes pop singer-pianist Billy Joel, architect Frank Gehry, actor F. Murray Abraham, novelist E.L. Doctorow and record producer Jerry Wexler. Carmichael serves as producer, engineer and host for the program, which airs on KAJX (91.5 FM in Aspen) Sunday mornings at 11 a.m.

“People had asked me to teach music in the past. I found that boring,” said Carmichael, a Los Angeles native who now lives in the Long Island, N.Y., town of Sag Harbor. “But what I do now – jazz history and creativity and music appreciation – is much more satisfying. I hope that people get new insights into art. I don’t think art should be mysterious or intimidating. It should be joyful and pleasurable.”

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