I’ve realized that I have my moments where I’m an old soul, and my heart longs for some great jazz so when I got an invite to catch Rondi Charleston at Joe’s Pub, i immediately jumped up for it. Charleston has been performing for quite some time now, and she’s had a rather interesting and diverse life – she was a Juilliard educated, classical vocalist, and she has had a lengthy career as an Emmy and Peabody Award winning TV producer and journalist with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s Primetime Live.
Charleston’s backing band is probably even more accomplished than her. Guitarist Dave Stryker is her writing partner, musical director and arranger. Pianist Brandon McCune has played with Abbey Lincoln and Nnenna Freelon; Ed Howard has played with Shirley Horn and Pat Metheny; drummer, Clarence Penn has played with the great Michael Brecker and Christian McBride; percussionist, Mayra Casales has played with the legendary Tito Puente and Celia Cruz; and saxophonist Ted Nash has played with Wynton Marsalis.
As a performer, Charleston is comfortable on a stage and comes off charming and funny, and in some subtle way, she reminds you of someone’s mother. Her original material, on her new album, Signs of Life are sung with a classical, jazz standard voice spoke of every day experiences and observations – the search for the inner truth of one’s own life, as in “DNA,” or the mysteries of the universe that one’s curious child asks about on a trip to the planetarium on “Telescope.” One of the more subtly political songs, tackles climate change. Bonus track “The Cave Knows” is based on the events of documentary No Place On Earth, a documentary which describes the experiences of 38 Jewish families who fled to the caves of the Ukraine during the Holocaust. And although the lyrics come from a deeply sincere place, at times they were a little cringe-inducing to me, at least. Her choice of covers were pretty intriguing. A rare vocal cover of Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology,” Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections,” a great cover of Paul Simon’s “Spirit Voices” and a great cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” Despite some minor, niggling issues, Charleston’s charm though won me over but i was most impressed by her band – they were tight and yet played with a professional, easy-going manner. I probably would have preferred some more improvisation but when you’re introduction new material, there’s a sense of playing it as straight as possible – at least initially. But all in all, it was an entertaining night.
For these photos and a few more photos, check out the Flickr set here: