“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).