Charles Craig Sr: The life of a Jazz Pianist and insights on Oscar Peterson

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“He’s on an international level. Everybody on the scene, they know who he is...we’re just super lucky to be able to pick up the phone and call him for a performance.”

-Lonnie Davis on Charles Craig Sr

 

Charles Craig Sr, the son of a preacher, was born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Chicago. His early training was classical music, which he played exclusively from age 6 to 17.  Though concentrating on piano, he also played trumpet, trombone, cornet, and other brass instruments. He speaks on his discovery of Jazz music at age 17:

 

My father had a very large, expensive record collection, all different genres of music.  So I was in the basement practicing one time and, I wrote a lot, I did a lot of writing for piano and other instruments.  I just happened to thumb through the record collection and I saw an Oscar Peterson album, “Exclusively for my Friends”, I saw a Ramsey Lewis album, “The in Crowd”, and I saw a Dexter Gordon album that featured Herbie Hancock…and I started listening to those and I really liked how they expressed themselves...how they improvised. I loved writing, so I thought “Wow, I can do that”, mix it in with the classical, you know, make something kinda new and different.  That’s how I got into Jazz.

 

At age 20, Charles would attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA:

 

I met Roy Hargrove at Berklee...he was there at the same time I was...he had to leave, but he always said to me that, you know, we’d play again. So basically once I got to New York and he heard me play and he asked me to join his band.

 

Recently, Charles came back from NYC where he played two nights at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room with Sherman Irby’s Journey Through Swing. “It’s all types of Jazz music from the 1890’s to today...it was an awesome time...and man, the view from the piano, if you look to the right you got the crowd, but if you look to the left you got Manhattan, Columbus Circle, it’s just so beautiful at night.”, he said.  Charles was called upon to join the ensemble, many of whom are core members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra or JALC All-Stars.

 

 

On Oscar Peterson, his style, and technical excellence:

 

Take “Boogie Etude”,  if you listen to what he does he takes it all the way back from Meade “Lux” Lewis, he comes through Willie “The Lion” Smith, he comes through James P Johnson, you can hear all of these styles in what he does, but then he ends up with this bass line that’s just absolutely ridiculous to play...he’s playing all of these notes in the right hand, the contrapuntal nature of it is very difficult to execute, even if you sit down to try and practice it, or lift it off the cd.  No one was really doing anything like that outside of Art Tatum. Art Tatum was his idol.

 

Even when Oscar Peterson played minor music it sounded bright.  For instance, when he played Django, it’s minor and it goes into a minor blues, but the way he played it, it’s bright, it’s uplifting, it’s like, “wow this is the blues?” You know, you’re like happy.

 

On what the audience should take away from his tribute to Oscar Peterson:

 

Listening to good music and actually being happy, feeling good.  That’s one of the things his music was about….Oscar, every time he would play, he lit up the room, and that’s what I hope to do in this tribute concert is to light the room up. Fun. Bright. Atmosphere. Very vibrant music, and that’s what [Oscar] was about.

 

Charles Craig Sr is a down to earth and humble man.  When asked about what he would like to promote, what he would like to call attention to in this article, he spoke of his family. Charles met his wife, Annette, while attending Berklee.  After much touring, they would eventually settle in South Carolina, where Anette’s parents lived. He has two daughters Catrina and Charlene, and a son, Charles Craig Jr.  “And please mention this” said Charles, “my son got accepted to NYU. It’s important. I know this isn’t what you’re trying to talk about but you know, hey, I’m so proud, man.”  No worries, Charles.

 

Charles Craig plays a tribute to Oscar Peterson, two shows this Friday 3/20 at The Jazz Room.  Tickets available here.

 

Connect with Charles on Twitter @PianistCCraig

 

Watch Charles perform with JALCO’s Sherman Irby and see the beautiful view he spoke of (the music ain’t so bad either).

Jazz Arts Initiative: Connecting the cultural community through education

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In 2013, Harvard President Drew Faust and Wynton Marsalis authored an op-ed entitled “Faust/Marsalis: The Art of Learning”. In it they campaigned for arts education, specifically music education, and the advantages it provides our nations youth.

 

We need education that nurtures judgment as well as mastery, ethics and values as well as analysis. We need learning that will enable students to interpret complexity, to adapt, and to make sense of lives they never anticipated. We need a way of teaching that encourages them to develop understanding of those different from themselves, enabling constructive collaborations across national and cultural origins and identities.

 

In other words, we need learning that incorporates what the arts teach us.

 

Since the summer of 2011, Jazz Arts Initiative has been presenting the JazzArts Music Camp to a diversity of students from across the Charlotte area and beyond.  The week long camp provides students the opportunity to perform together in combos, work closely with world-renowned musicians and clinicians like Delfeayo Marsalis, Christian Scott, or Jamey Aebersold, and experience exactly the type of learning Faust and Marsalis are championing.

 

Jazz music teaches us the respect, patience, and attentiveness that is required to participate in today's worldwide conversation. It enables us to understand and enjoy the individuality of every person and encourages us to listen to one another with empathy.

-Wynton Marsalis

 

This summer JazzArts Music Camp will be June 15th-19th at UNC Charlotte Center City, a centrally located, modern and spacious facility, an ideal environment for learning.  There students will receive instruction from Jazz Arts Initiative faculty that includes professors from UNCC, Davidson College, and CMS. In addition, camp attendees will enjoy instruction from this years guest clinician, John Ellis.  Mr Ellis is widely recognized as one of Jazz music’s premiere tenor saxophone voices. He has performed extensively around the world for the last 20 years, and has been a sideman to artists as diverse as bass icon John Patitucci, organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Sting.

 

I want them to come away with discovering the music inside them. And not thinking about themselves as jazz musicians, but thinking about themselves as good human beings, striving to be a great person and maybe they'll become a great musician.

-Charlie Haden

 

Lonnie Davis, President and CEO of Jazz Arts Initiative, states “After the week long experience students walk away with new friends, greater motivation to be their best as a musician,  and a new appreciation for America's original art form: Jazz.”  To date, close to 200 students have been served by JazzArts Music Camp.   Strong corporate support from both regional and national sponsors including Belk, PNC Bank, Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation and Coca Cola help grow the program. But participation of Charlotte’s young musicians is the key.

 

What are your young musicians doing this summer?  Enroll them in The JazzArts Music Camp, and engage with Charlotte’s cultural community.  Further details including costs, audition requirements, and financial aid forms can be found on Jazz Arts Iniitative’s website.

 

Enroll online today.  See you at Camp!

Charlotte Classic Jazz Festival 2014

Charlotte Classic Jazz Festival 2014

October 4 in Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts

All of the daytime activities are free to the public and people of all ages are encouraged to come celebrate Charlotte’s jazz heritage. Festivities begin at 11am and are sure to entertain until late into the evening, as a wide variety of activities are on the agenda.

Complete with a New Orleans-style second line jazz parade from the intersection of Trade and Tryon in Uptown down to the Knight Theater, CCJF 2014 is a cultural jazzfeast for the whole family. From “Jazz for Tots” to a “Jazz from the Carolinas” panel, there’s something for everyone. A jazz showcase will take place at 7pm. Tickets to the performance are $5 each. (To view the complete schedule for the festival, visit BlumenthalArts.org.)

 

Oscar Peterson: Quintessential Jazz Piano Man

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Though it’s easy to assume all jazz greats come from America, Oscar Peterson was a native Canadian.  He was born and raised in Montreal by his parents who emmigrated from the British West Indies and Virgin Islands.  His first instrument was the trumpet, but Peterson eventually took on piano and classical training. The classical study soon turned to a passion for learning jazz. Peterson was known to play 12-14 hours a day during this period.  He speaks about that time in this 2002 interview with Allan Gould.

 

“...the piano became part of my everyday life. It was part of me. I'd get up in the morning singing things that I wanted to play that day.”

 

As a teenager seeking out Jazz, Peterson would sneak in time with the radio to listen to the legends of the era.  He also played along with records, a method he later recommended to his students.

 

When I was teaching at York University, whenever the students,would ask, "How can I play jazz piano?" I used to tell them: "Go downstairs, go to the library and get a Nat Cole album or a Lester Young album. Play along with it, and keep playing along with it until you can play with them normally." That's what I did.

 

Peterson lists Art Tatum, Dizzie Gillespie, Lester Young, and Roy Eldridge as early influences. Listen to Peterson speak about sneaking in radio time to listen to Jazz greats and his early influences including Art Tatum in this NPR interview from 2012.

 

In a 1962 interview with Les Tomkins, Peterson says of Tatum:

 

“I’m an Art Tatum-ite. If you speak of pianists, the most complete pianist that we have known and possibly will know, from what I’ve heard to date, is Art Tatum. I’m not classing myself in that calibre of talent, but Art Tatum was accused of the same thing that I’m being accused of today - that he played so much in so few bars. Yet in the same reviews or opinions where they say “Oh, he plays too much, everything is a run,” they turn round and say “But he’s a genius.” So there’s no way of satisfying them.”

 

Oscar Peterson was eventually discovered by producer Norman Granz, with whom he would work for most of his career.  Granz produced  “Jazz at the Philharmonic”, a series of concerts, tours, and recordings featuring the preeminent Jazz musicians of the day.  Ganz introduced Peterson in 1949 at a Carnegie Hall performance of Jazz at the Philharmonic.

 

By the late 1950’s, Peterson had attained worldwide recognition as a jazz pianist.  His well documented career would send him around the world with touchstones in the areas of civil rights and higher education, achieving awards and recognitions along the way.  Oscar Peterson continued to perform through 2007, the year of his death.

 


Each month, Jazz Arts Initiative presents The Jazz Room at The Stage Door Theater, a showcase of local and regional talent paying tribute to the greatest musicians of Classic Jazz.  This month, to cap of it’s 4th Season, The Jazz Room features pianist Charles Craig and his tribute to Oscar Peterson. Tickets are available for 6pm and 8:15pm showings of The Jazz Room.

Jazz Arts Initiative Awarded Grant

Charlotte’s Jazz Arts Initiative (JAI) has been awarded a generous $30,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support the continuation of the highly acclaimed monthly series – The Jazz Room @ The Stage Door Theater. The additional funding allows the series to move to Friday nights and add a second show each night. It will continue in The Stage Door Theater, part of Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, at the corner of 5th and College in Uptown Charlotte.