Swingin' in the Season With Jazz Pianist Judy Carmichael - 27 East

Arts & Living

Arts & Living / 2219456

Swingin’ in the Season With Jazz Pianist Judy Carmichael

icon 1 Photo
Jazz pianist Judy Carmichael performs at Bay Street Theater on December 9. COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

Jazz pianist Judy Carmichael performs at Bay Street Theater on December 9. COURTESY BAY STREET THEATER

authorAnnette Hinkle on Dec 5, 2023

Though jazz pianist Judy Carmichael has traveled the world many times over to play countless clubs and auditoriums, there’s nothing like performing at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. That’s because Bay Street is all about coming home, in every metaphorical and literal sense of the word.

“It’s my absolute favorite show of the year,” admitted Carmichael in a recent phone interview from her Sag Harbor home. “I know that theater, love it, and it’s my favorite kind of theater. With the raked seats, there’s not a bad seat in the house. Everyone can see.”

By way of background — it’s never easy keeping track of Carmichael. As a supremely talented pianist (one who has even begun singing in recent years) and with her quick, acerbic wit, she is in high and constant demand and always on the move.

Don’t believe it? Read on.

“This fall, I’ve been traveling nonstop and I’m very excited about it,” said Carmichael. “It’s been a series of the best concerts. I’m going to two of my favorite places, California on Friday — I’ll be in Paso Robles, where the film ‘Sideways’ took place — then I’m back here and doing Bay Street. Then I’m doing a little ship gig, New York to Bermuda. I’ll be home two to three days in between.”

That one-night only opportunity to catch Carmichael locally at the keyboard comes Saturday, December 9, when she presents an 8 p.m. concert at Bay Street Theater. This particular concert has become an annual tradition, and, as usual, Carmichael and her trio promise to deliver a high-energy, joyful evening of favorites from the Great American Songbook to Carmichael’s own witty compositions.

In truth, there’s nowhere else she’d rather be than on stage at this point. After COVID-19 sidelined Carmichael (and virtually every other performer in the world) for more than a year, she’s happy to be back in the spotlight and in nonstop motion.

“I’m just so grateful to be working,” said Carmichael, who notes that she has witnessed her field change in the wake of the pandemic. “People have shorter attention spans now. All my concerts used to be two halves with an intermission. Now they are straight through, with no intermission.

“It’s kind of odd and something everyone as they get older goes through,” she added. “But I couldn’t anticipate the state of the business and that it would change so much. How venues present the music and deal with presenters is a big subject now.”

Carmichael compares the changes she sees in the live performance industry to what’s happening across the board in broadcast and print media, as well as the recording industry. Shorter attention spans, due in large part to social media, are driving quicker and flashier snippets of information and entertainment, while larger numbers of performers are vying for that audience’s limited time and attention, often with less support from sponsoring organizations.

At this point in her career, Carmichael is happy following her interests wherever they take her, including into the podcasting realm with “Jazz Inspired,” her long-running weekly NPR radio show that explores the effect of music on the creative lives of accomplished people.

“I don’t know if I’ll make another CD or recording. Why would I? I’d rather write another book,” said Carmichael, who has two under her belt, “Great Inspirations — 22 years of ‘Jazz Inspired’ on NPR” which came out last year, and 2017’s “Swinger!: A Jazz Girl’s Adventures From Hollywood to Harlem.” “I love to write, both books fed me and challenged me creatively.”

Following her creative impulses has proven to be a theme and a successful formula over the course of her career. She recalls a conversation she once had with a famed graphic designer that has stuck with her for decades.

“When I was in my early 30s, Milton Glazer told me that his career had been as creative as his art,” said Carmichael. “That really struck me, because I was already changing my viewpoint at the time. I was going to be an actress, then I was going to go into foreign service, then I became a jazz pianist. I had gotten a Grammy nomination and all these things — but it didn’t suddenly get easier, like it does when you get your own sitcom.

“That was heartening — the idea that change was part of the creativity,” she added. “I have always found that for people who are professionally creative, the great gift is living a creative life. The way we look at the world, the way we relate. It’s a way of seeing the world, which is a big part of why I do ‘Jazz Inspired.’ I feel everyone should tap into that more.”

Carmichael has seen how creativity is often suppressed in young people — particularly girls — as they move into adolescence. The self-conscious fear of expressing themselves in front of others who might be critical takes hold, killing that creativity, sometimes for a few years, sometimes forever. She references the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron, in which she read that in ancient times, it was creative people who were the empaths in society.

“They became doctors, priests and artists, but they were the minority of the populace and really revered,” said Carmichael. “That’s changed. Now people who are sensitive are criticized. I think in our society sensitivity is drummed out of us, because people are judgmental.

“I can remember that I had to really learn to not get angry when I would be saying something earnest and sincere and people would just change the subject or make a joke of it,” she added. “That enraged me when I was younger. Now when someone does that, it’s not someone I want know.”

Through performing, Carmichael learned how to take a stressful or irritating situation that had happened to her on the road and turn it into a fun story for the stage.

“Early in my career, I realized I was an idealized version of myself on stage and I wanted to be more like that off stage,” she said. “Make it a funny story from my real life and it massively improved my life. I am the one bringing everyone to the table and setting the conversation.”

Exploring the innate creativity of others is the key to the interviews she does with all sorts of famous people (not just musicians) on “Jazz Inspired” as well.

“My show is on NPR stations, but it’s not funded by NPR,” said Carmichael. “The good news is, I’m the producer, so I’m going in way different directions than NPR would. I’m having conversations that wouldn’t normally happen. The woman I had on the show yesterday, she had a new record, but I listened to a different record. Usually it’s all about selling the product, but this wasn’t that way. This was about an interesting story.”

Letting the creative impulses lead the way instead of the marketing expectations has been key to her success. And speaking of that, audiences at this Saturday’s show can expect to see some of Carmichael’s own creative impulses in the form of new tunes that will be performed at Bay Street.

“I still consider singing as something that is really new. Someone said to me once, ‘You’re a singer.’ I said, ‘No.’ My guitar player said, ‘You are a singer now,’” said Carmichael. “I’ve been finding new tunes that are just loads of fun. I’ve got a surprise, a funny beginning. And though I won’t do Christmas tunes, I will launch into the season. I feel that is a perfect spot to be in, because I love the holidays.”

When asked if her audiences have changed in recent years, like the entertainment business itself, Carmichael responded, “One of the things that changed that I feel is kind of a release from 15 years ago, is that pretty much everyone expected you to play standards. That was our parents’ generation. Now, unless you’re a real fan seeking out the music, you don’t know the standards, so I can do pretty much anything.

“I’m going way into the comedy, which I love, and resisted,” she added. “Jazz people were always like, ‘No, we’re serious musicians.’ But now, just go ahead and book me because comics are always working.”

While she can always count on seeing a lot people she knows in the audience at Bay Street shows, in recent years, Carmichael has also noticed a whole lot of new faces in the crowd.

“It’s shocking to me, after so many years of the same faces, that I see all these new people,” she said. “A third of the audience will still be people I know personally and that doesn’t happen anywhere else. A lot of people who come are fans and friends of what I do, but not jazz fans. For me, it’s very emotional playing here. I do feel the support of the town and I have since I’ve moved here. I feel like there’s a real support, and I was the first musician to play Bay Street.”

Unlike the other villages in “The Hamptons,” Carmichael has always seen Sag Harbor as the East End home for real creative energy, where it’s always been less important to be seen and more about actually doing the work.

“That is what’s so special about Bay Street. We all think Sag Harbor is the best out here. It’s very personal, the vibe is about the work, not being famous,” she said. “I feel lucky this is my hometown gig, my personal club.”

Judy Carmichael performs in concert at Bay Street Theater on Saturday, December 9, at 8 p.m. Joining Carmichael on stage will be guitarist Chris Slory and Dan Block on clarinet and sax. Tickets for the concert are $40 to $60 at baystreet.org or 631-725-9500. Bay Street Theater is on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.

You May Also Like:

Late Night at The Church

The Church’s “Late Night Open Studio” just got a lot bigger, and on Saturday, March ... 4 Mar 2024 by Staff Writer

‘Beauty Out of Bounds’ by Anne Sherwood Pundyk

East End Arts (EEA) in Riverhead presents “Beauty Out of Bounds,” Anne Sherwood Pundyk’s first ... by Staff Writer

St. Patrick’s Day Weekend With Suffolk Theater

Suffolk Theater is the place to be this St. Patrick's Day weekend with a stellar ... 3 Mar 2024 by Staff Writer

Pianist Rupert Egerton-Smith Performs at The Church

Concert pianist Rupert Egerton-Smith, in collaboration with the Alexander & Buono Foundation, takes to The Church’s vaunted corridors on Saturday, April 27, at 6 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.) to perform a program that includes Chopin, Gershwin, Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Scarlatti, as well as an improvisational piece inspired by The Church. Described as “particularly impressive” and noted for his superb musicality, Egerton-Smith gifts listeners with a performance of the highest caliber of solo instrumental, classical artistry that has garnered him praise from around the world. After finishing a successful tour of the Middle East, which became the subject of ... by Staff Writer

Spring and Summer Shows at the Parrish Art Museum

The Parrish Art Museum has announced its exhibition schedule for the upcoming 2024 season, featuring ... 2 Mar 2024 by Staff Writer

‘Dial M for Murder’ in 3D at Sag Harbor Cinema

Following a successful run of Wim Wenders’s “Anselm” (2023), Sag Harbor Cinema will present Alfred ... by Staff Writer

‘All Star Comedy’ Is Back at Bay Street Theater

Bay Street Theater will host an all-new line-up for the fifth iteration of this season’s ... by Staff Writer

‘Las Repúblicas: Méritos,’ a Performance by Claudia Hilda

On Friday, March 15, at 6 p.m., The Church presents “Las Repúblicas: Méritos,” a performance ... by Staff Writer

Let’s Talk Art: Author Jeffrey Sussman Shares Insight into the ‘Tinseltown Gangsters’

East Hampton author Jeffrey Sussman recently published a new book, “Tinseltown Gangsters: The Rise and ... 1 Mar 2024 by Annette Hinkle

G.E. Smith & the American Blues With Larry McCray

On Friday, March 8, at 8 p.m., G.E. Smith and The American Blues returns to ... by Staff Writer