Jazz takes on a different tune when Judy Carmichael takes the stage. A true virtuoso, Carmichael got into the genre in her 20s and has since mastered the art of stride piano and swing — such a talent that Count Basie nicknamed her “Stride” — which landed her Grammy nominations.
The California native moved to Sag Harbor in 1992, where she resides when she’s not touring the nearly 200 days a year. Carmichael debuted as Bay Street Theater’s first musician to play the 299-seat professional theater. “They weren’t focusing on that at all in the beginning, which is hard to imagine because they present so much music now,” Carmichael said of the theater that originally focused on plays.
Now, part singer, part pianist, part comedian, and all parts entertaining, Carmichael will return to Bay Street Theater, her “home gig” on Friday, October 4, at 8 PM for her one-night only show of “Let’s Swing!” She will play alongside clarinetist/saxophonist Dan Block, bassist George DeLancey, and longtime collaborator, guitarist Chris Flory, in an evening of ballads. “Chris is my stand-by guitarist. He’ll be the only one in the band who’s not a new player. Anytime you get new musicians together, because it’s all improvisational, different things happen. That’s what’s so great about jazz. That’s what I’m really looking forward to.”
As with all things Carmichael, it’s hard to predict what’s in store for the evening. She will present fresh compositions, a special surprise, and a lot of singing.
As for the future, it’s important to keep the vibe alive, she noted. In a recent conversation with the famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on her national NPR show “Jazz Inspired” (airing locally on Tuesday nights on 88.3 WPPB FM), the two discussed ways to intrigue the public on disciplines that can be intimidating to the masses.
“It’s all about framing the music in a way that brings the audience in. The performers need to be conscious of unfamiliarity,” Carmichael said, and need to keep things humorous and accessible. Continuing being the Renaissance woman she is, Carmichael also authored a book in 2017, “Swinger! A Jazz Girl’s Adventures from Hollywood to Harlem.” But her live shows still offer plenty of anecdotes.
“I try to tell the stories about some of the artists I play, stories that people will relate with, funny stories,” she said. “We frame the songs in a way that that makes them fresh, and brings people into the music.”
Bay Street Theater is located at the corner of Bay Street and Main Street in Sag Harbor. Call the box office at 631-725-9500 or visit online at www.baystreet.org. Learn more about Carmichael at www.judycarmichael.com.