AVAILABLE FEBRUARY 8, 2011
MOTÉMA DEBUT CD BY ACCLAIMED VOCALIST INCLUDES STUNNING VERSION OF THE CLASSIC SANDY DENNY/JUDY COLLINS TITLE SONG
“Rondi Charleston is an outstanding contemporary jazz singer and an even better songwriter…she has created one of the better jazz vocal albums you’re likely to hear right now” – Will Friedwald
“Hers is an immense gift…the jazz equivalent of a gin and tonic: cool, clear and effervescent with a deliciously subtle kick” – JazzTimes
The dozen breathtaking performances on Who Knows Where The Time Goes, singer and songwriter Rondi Charleston’s upcoming Motéma Music release, are a showcase for one of the most compelling artists in contemporary music. Who Knows Where The Time Goes is the follow-up to her 2008, critically acclaimed release In My Life.
A storyteller by nature, and a dedicated vocalist, Charleston has established herself as a favorite among a core group of respected critics. The New York Times has called Rondi, “utterly delightful…her emotional range is wide…a joy to hear.” And Grammy-winning journalist and music historian Bob Blumenthal considers her, “…that rare combination of native talent and keen perception…a commanding vocal stylist and a spellbinding storyteller…”
Performing music is as natural as storytelling for the Juilliard-trained Charleston, whose instinct provides the warm lucidity of her work on Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
The former Chicago native’s luminous rhythmic flexibility and immediate timbral richness are heard throughout the recording, whether confessing the longings of “Please Send Me Someone to Love” or demonstrating a force as strong as gravity on her originals, “Dance of Time,” the remarkable tale of “Land of Galilee”, or reflections on the heart-wrenching ancestral journey in “Your Spirit Lingers,” Charleston writes and sings with full engagement and zero pretense, wasting no words.
Motéma Music owner/label head Jana Herzen said of Rondi’s signing, “I treasure her passion, vision and talent for perceiving and telling compelling, universal stories. The arts for me are all about the journey, and Rondi has much to share on that front.”
Blending her diverse careers in music and media, the collection of tunes on Who Knows Where the Time Goes, including the title song, are marked by honest words, skillful writing and intelligent music. Charleston’s unique style is a wonderfully accessible form of jazz and jazz-inspired songs all delivered with the ease of the classic American Standard or the brilliant simplicity of a Top 40 pop tune.
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“It’s all about storytelling,” Charleston explains, and then quotes Diane Sawyer – her former boss at PrimeTime Live. “When we were in the thick of scripting, and we couldn’t see the forest for the trees, she used to say ‘remember – just tell the story.'” And for Charleston, a self described ‘language junkie’ those were words to live by; “whether it’s journalism, or lyric poetry, the world of words is so full of possibility – the possibility of creating some fresh, new evocative meaning or metaphor – that is what interests and excites me when I’m writing a new song.”
Along with hints of folk music and Charleston’s own compositions such as “Song for the Ages,” written for the night President Obama accepted the U.S. Presidency at Grant Park, selections on Who Knows Where The Time Goes range from Stevie Wonder’s soulful “Overjoyed” and Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” to reworkings of Brazilian treasures “Wave” by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Milton Nascimento’s “Tudo Que VocêPodia Ser/Everything You Were Meant to Be,” (with English lyrics by Charleston), to reinterpretations of great American standards, “I Hear Music” and “This Nearly Was Mine.”
Charleston grew up in Chicago’s Hyde Park, the only daughter of a jazz enthusiast and a mother who sang and taught voice. Music was everywhere in her house. “My dad was an English professor. He used to put T.S. Eliot in my cereal bowl in the morning to talk about later. He played jazz piano and had jazz radio on all the time. Count Basie, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald recordings played pretty much 24/7 in our house,” explained Rondi.
When she was six, her father took Charleston and her brother to hear Duke Ellington at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel. “We waited and waited for him to arrive. It was raining when he and the band finally got out of the tour bus – and they were all wearing shower caps to protect their well coiffed hair! Just imagine – all these elegant gentlemen wearing these crazy ladies’ shower caps! My dad introduced us, and as we shook his hand, I remember him looking down at me, with his beautifully lined face, kind eyes and deep, mellifluous voice. I got goose bumps and a big lump in my throat.”
Music, Charleston points out, is deep in her genes. “Everybody in my family sings,” she says. “In addition to my father, brother and mother, who was a professional singer, my grandmother and her six sisters all sang. On the new album, I wrote a song called “Your Spirit Lingers,” which was inspired by a book written by my great-grandmother, Indiana, about her life, basically, as a pioneer woman. She traveled by covered wagon across the country at six months of age, grew up on the prairie, lived through unspeakable hardship, and ended up in Oregon. She was incredibly musical, and was an exceptionally gifted writer,” Charleston says of Indiana, who eventually chronicled her experiences in exceptionally strong and vivid, self-taught prose, a bound copy of which Charleston inherited and treasures.
Before attending Juilliard, Charleston devoured recordings with her brother, now a percussionist who plays regularly with the New York Philharmonic. They loved the Beatles, Beethoven and Brubeck – as well as Stevie Wonder, and especially Joni Mitchell. For Charleston, performing music is as natural as talking, and talking frequently takes the form of storytelling.
A couple of key times after she left Chicago, Charleston seemed to move away from music. After acting in her teens in the University of Chicago productions of Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and other plays, she auditioned successfully for the famous Shakespearean, John Houseman, and initially enrolled in Juilliard’s theater department. Yet after a few semesters she transferred to music – “Where I’d always wanted to be,” she says – and was accepted to the opera program. After completing two degrees, Charleston sang professionally for a while. “I’m petite – ‘vertically challenged’ at 5’3″,” she says, “and I sang a lot of Mozart, frequently cast as the maid. I spent my classical career pacing the floorboards and serving tea on stage, always the maid, never the Countess. I became a bit – how should I say – artistically unfulfilled!” She began to study journalism at NYU at night.
“On assignment for one of my first classes there,” Charleston says, “I discovered a cover-up involving a major train crash in New York City by prowling around the bowels of Grand Central Station and talking to the workers.” She tells the story. “A Metro-North engineer was killed in an accident for which he was blamed, when actually, a fancy new Cab-signal system had malfunctioned, sending him full speed ahead around a turn where another train was parked. Instead of accepting the responsibility for the accident, Metro North blamed the engineer, an African-American gentleman from Mount Vernon. They said he was high, a drug addict. I visited his family, and got a hold of the autopsy report. There were no drugs at all in his system when he died. So I broke the story, and it ran in The Daily News and The New York Times. It felt really good. You can change peoples’ lives with this work.” Immediately, Charleston found herself hired by ABC News, where she worked with Diane Sawyer at PrimeTime Live. Including a final year at NBC News before leaving broadcast journalism to pursue motherhood and music, Charleston worked in television for six years, contributing to stories that won her Emmy and Peabody awards.
“I kept singing, though,” she says, “I couldn’t stop. I ended up studying jazz singing for a few years while I was at ABC. My teacher, Peter Eldridge of New York Voices, really brought me from classical to jazz, because there is a different vocal technique involved. I began to sing sometimes in New York’s Greenwich Village. Diane would come, and she’d sing along, knowing all the words to the songs.” Perhaps performing in the Village, where decades before the young Bob Dylan and others began to forge ultimately world-famous notions of how songs might proceed in terrifically personal ways, Charleston began to glimpse some rich path for herself about how to consolidate all her influences. Certainly now, with her Motéma Music debut and fourth album overall, her songwriting holds its own with clear craft and vibrancy on a collection that includes the work of contemporary masters as diverse as Wonder and Jobim, and she is off to the creative races.
“My husband, my daughter and I were in Israel a couple of years ago,” Charleston says of how she came to write “Land of Galilee.” “We were walking around the outskirts of Jerusalem – which is in the middle of the desert, and is always hot and dry, when the skies opened up and it suddenly began to snow! And everyone-Jews, Muslims and Christians-came out of their houses and cautiously started to play together – gently throwing snowballs, building snowmen, laughing and singing. Not just children, but their parents and grandparents were all playing together! And I just thought – what an amazing moment! It goes to show that perhaps there could be peace, that peace is possible.”
Rondi Charleston is always telling a story. As Who Knows Where the Time Goes demonstrates, her impulse to do that is the foundation, as well as the heart, of her thrilling singing and especially her original songs.
Press Enquiries on Rondi Charleston Please Contact:
Jason Paul Harman Byrne – Red Cat Publicity
Tel 347 578 7601, Email Redcatjazz@mac.com