Stride jazz pianist Judy Carmichael is the consummate performer. Though her busy travel schedule keeps her hopping to festivals, concerts and gigs around the globe, it’s been 13 years since Carmichael came out with a CD of her music.
That’s because shortly after the release of the last CD, Carmichael began producing her NPR radio show, “Jazz Inspired,” in which she interviews celebrity guests about the music that inspired them in their careers. Today, the show is heard in markets across the U.S. and Canada, but initially, it was very much a grassroots effort.
“That took everything,” admits Carmichael. “It was tremendously difficult to raise money and get it on the radio. I’d press CDs myself and send them to the radio stations.”
“Now the show’s going well,” she adds. “It still is a lot of work, but it’s not a start up anymore.”
Which means that Carmichael can turn her attention back to recording. This weekend, Judy Carmichael comes home to Sag Harbor to celebrate the launch of “Southern Swing” a live CD of her recent performance at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz in Australia. A champagne launch party for the CD will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Romany Kramoris Gallery (41 Main Street, Sag Harbor) on Friday, July 18.
“Southern Swing” contains snippets of conversations between Carmichael and musicians as well as anecdotes shared with the audience. It’s the type of off-the-cuff material that Carmichael notes people don’t generally get to hear on her CDs.
“That’s why I love live recordings,” she says. “I thought it would be fun to give that in-person concert experience. I really like live recordings, all those Ella Fitzgerald concerts where people scream and you wonder, ‘What did she do?’”
These days, Carmichael also loves having a band to call her own. For years, she has toured as a solo performer — a lonely proposition. But she now is happy to report that when invited to perform at venues around the world, she is often asked to bring along her band – and it’s a big one. She’s up to a septet, including herself and two new favorite musicians, Australians Dave Blenkhorn (guitar) and Dan Barnett (trombone).
“A lot of the piano players — Fats Waller, Earl Hines, some of my heroes — had big bands,” she says. “That’s why this is so exciting. As long as I’ve been a professional musician I’ve wanted a big band. This is a big band for me.”
“It’s more fun to play with people,” adds Carmichael. “I spent 230 days on the road last year. It’s incredibly lonely, both personally and artistically. Everything has to come from me.”
But a year ago or so, Carmichael noted a shift. Her name had grown and suddenly, she was not being booked as a solo performer, but was encouraged to bring along a band.
“It changed,” she says. “It’s like I’m a 30 year overnight success. Suddenly 90 percent of what I got hired for I could bring a band. It’s tremendously inspiring. In August, I’m making my fifth trip in four years to Brazil, and I bring a bigger group every time.”
This fall, Carmichael and her band will be back from Brazil and ready to head into the studio to record another new CD “Come and Get It” – this time, she will also sing – a first for her.
“I never sang. I always had hang-ups about singing,” says Carmichael. “People always wanted me to sing. Isn’t it enough that I play? I don’t want to.”
But as a joke, Carmichael sang during a gig with Steve Ross at Feinstein’s, the New York City nightclub. Afterwards, Michael Feinstein himself told Carmichael she really should keep singing, so she did.
“I really enjoyed it and didn’t think I would,” she says. “I started playing differently and listening differently. I liked what it did to my playing. It’s been a shift in my own thinking.”
“Other musicians said, ‘Don’t get lessons,’” adds Carmichael. “I’ve taken a couple technique lessons, but I’m always going to be a piano player who sings a little.”
“Come and Get It” will feature some swing tunes, including early Basie and Ellington.
“I’ll probably sing on more than half of it,” says Carmichael. “Dan Barnett’s a beautiful singer, so we’ll do a couple of duets.”
In the meantime, in addition to the CD launch party at Kramoris Gallery, fans can hear Carmichael at Bay Street Theatre’s benefit on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor this Saturday, July 19 when she performs selections from “Ain’t Misbehavin” (the theatre’s next production). On July 27, she performs at “Jazz at the Beach” a fundraiser for the Southampton Historical Museum. Carmichael will also appear at a fundraising lunch for “Jazz Inspired” at The American Hotel in Sag Harbor on September 21 and is also scheduled to perform at the Bay Street Theatre this fall.