It’s not unusual when two Hollywood stars get married. There have been hundreds of such occurrences over the decades …. and a handful of them have even resulted in happy, fulfilling marriages, such as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s.
There are far fewer examples of such unions in music and jazz is no exception. All of which cannot help but call attention to the marriage – both personal and musical – of Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes. The two will perform in “their tandem grand mode” on June 6 at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival with special guest Bobby Hutcherson.
I had the opportunity to interview the couple a few years ago and here’s what they had to say about marriage and music.
Question: I want to start with a largely non-musical question. That is, how did you two meet and become a couple?
Rosnes: Bill and I were aware of each other’s work and were musical acquaintances since the early 1990s, when we were both starting to work on the New York jazz scene. It wasn’t until a concert tour of Japan in 2003 that we became friends with one another. The tour consisted of 10 pianists, the other eight being: Ray Bryant, Junior Mance, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Benny Green, Eric Reed and the late James Williams. Throughout the tour, each pianist performed in solo, duo and trio settings. Bill and I were asked to play several duet performances together and there was an immediate easy musical connection. It was several years after that we became a couple and eventually married in New York on August 25, 2007.
Question: Discuss, if you will, the technical demands of piano duets.
Rosnes: Making music with two pianos is a delicate business. With 176 note selections at one’s disposal, the idea is to make choices that will complement the overall sound. Bill and I innately try to play with clarity and are always thinking of how best to support the music and each other at any given moment. Both of us really enjoy exploring all the orchestrational possibilities of playing two pianos and we never know which direction the music might go in.
With regards to arranging – aside from who’s going to play a melody – we leave the improvising to the spontaneity of the moment. There is a lot of nonverbal communication going on and the performances are very different from night to night.
Question: This is somewhat trite but I feel compelled to ask: To what degree can listeners credit your musical interplay to your personal relationship? In other words, how does the love and support inherent in marriage influence the music you make together?
Rosnes/Charlap: That is a difficult question to answer since we are engaged in the creative process and don’t experience our music the same way an audience member would. However, I’m sure there are certain organic and intimate elements to our musical collaboration that are unique to us because we are married and know each other so well. The love between us reveals itself in the freedom of the music.
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