By Dawn Watson
Judy Carmichael has a whole lot of reasons to be singing happy songs these days.
The Grammy-nominated Sag Harbor-based pianist has hit a sweet spot in her career. Notably one of the first women jazz instrumentalists, she travels all over the world to play sold-out shows. Her “Jazz Inspired” radio show is broadcast over 170 stations throughout North America and streams on Sirius XM. She’s got her own three-day jazz festival on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. And the world-renowned stride pianist, nicknamed “Stride” by Count Basie himself, gets to play her hometown, on the Bay Street stage, coming up on Saturday, September 19.
The name of the show is, fittingly, “This Is My Lucky Day!”
“It’s a sort of metaphor for everything in life right now,” Ms. Carmichael mused last week during a break between concert dates. “I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be able to do the things I love. And I’m happy that I’m coming home to Sag Harbor and playing Bay Street again.”
Though she’s performed at Carnegie Hall and other similar legendary stages all over the world, there’s nothing quite like coming home, according to the well traveled musician.
“I get to see all my friends, my tennis buddies, my plumber and my electrician when I look out at the audience here. It’s the very best of small town living,” she says. “That’s what I love about the Hamptons we know.”
The title of the Bay Street gig, which will include Ms. Carmichael playing stride piano and singing her original Great American Songbook-inspired tunes, has an even deeper meaning for the musician. It’s also the name of a song that she recently wrote.
After carving out a successful career as a stride pianist, two years ago Ms. Carmichael decided it was time to stretch and grow musically. She released her first all-vocal CD, “I Love Being Here With You,” which was also her first album to feature someone else on piano duties.
Last summer, it was time to challenge herself once again. So she started writing songs. And though Ms. Carmichael had written two books on stride, contributed numerous articles to high-profile music magazines and rearranged a number of tunes for performance, she hadn’t really thought of putting pen to paper to write tunes, she reports.
But the lyrics started flowing, “like somebody flipped a switch,” she says, adding that she’s found profound joy in the process.
“Even if I’m writing about loss or pain, it ends in an empowered way,” she says. “’This Is My Lucky Day’ is very much about that. It’s about going forth and getting the most out of life. Going forward with optimism, as hokey as that might sound.”
Writing with Harry Allen, a world-class musician who has been described as “the Frank Sinatra of tenor saxophone,” has allowed her to do just that, says Ms. Carmichael. Working with the master musician has been eye-opening, she adds. Not only has the partnership yielded a generous output, it’s expanded the way she plays piano. And it’s changed her life in other major ways too.
Writing became such a pleasure that Ms. Carmichael decided to draft a memoir. Recently completed and now in the editing process, the book will be the first published autobiography of a female jazz musician, ever, she reports. The busy piano player and composer has also been approached to score a musical, which she’s considering.
“You never know where things are going to go if you’re open creatively,” she says.
Being open to opportunities has also led Ms. Carmichael to another new venture. Next year, she and Gary Hygom, Bay Street’s managing production director, will get to work together again. In addition to putting on another piano concert, on May 21, the pair will team up to record a live version of “Jazz Inspired” at Bay Street with Grammy-winning composer Billy Stritch. It’s a tradition that Ms. Carmichael says she hopes will continue on every year.
But in the meantime, she’s got her upcoming Bay Street gig to prepare for. And the busy pianist/singer/songwriter/author/radio host says that she’s going to keep exploring. And she encourages everyone else to follow suit.
“Whether you’re in a creative field or not, do something that’s delightful and inspiring,” she says. “Try new things. Even if it seems scary. They might just open up an ability or hidden gift you don’t even know you had.”
Judy Carmichael will perform “This Is My Lucky Day!” at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Saturday, September 19, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $45 to $75 and are available at www.baystreet.org. Learn more about Ms. Carmichael at www.judycarmichael.com.