Mother-Son Duo Makes Perfect Harmony When jazz pianist Bill Charlap and his mother, singer Sandy Stewart, get together in a studio, their harmony is as easy as their affection for each other. The album of 11 jazz standards they recorded together documents their love for each other, and the American songbook.
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Mother-Son Duo Makes Perfect Harmony

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Mother-Son Duo Makes Perfect Harmony

Mother-Son Duo Makes Perfect Harmony

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(Soundbite of song, "A Sleepin' Bee")

Ms. SANDY STEWART (Singer): (Singing) When a bee lies sleepin' in the palm o' your hand…


That's vocalist, Sandy Stewart, accompanied by the jazz pianist, arranger and her son, Bill Charlap. Stewart made few recordings, and often was featured on early televisions shows, Perry Como, Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen.

Bill Charlap has made many critically acclaimed recordings with his trio. Bill's father and Sandy's late husband was Moose Charlap, a Broadway composer famous for the musical "Peter Pan." Two years ago, Sandy Stewart and Bill Charlap decided to record something together.

(Soundbite of song, "A Sleepin' Bee")

Ms. STEWART: (Singing) Sleep on, bee, don't waken…

HANSEN: The ease you hear in their music reflects their relationship. It is also evident in their banter, when we arranged for Sandy to go into a studio in Florida and Bill to go to our studio in New York.

Mr. BILL CHARLAP (Jazz Pianist and Arranger): Hi Mom.

HANSEN: Hi, Bill. Can you hear us?

Mr. CHARLAP: I can hear you, and I hear a very familiar voice.

HANSEN: Could you…

Ms. STEWART: Do you, now?

Mr. CHARLAP: Yes. Hi, Ma.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEWART: Hi yah, baby. I'm sending you a big hug.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Welcome to the program, both of you.

Ms. STEWART: Thank you, Liane.

Mr. CHARLAP: Thank you.

HANSEN: Why did you decide to do this album together?

Ms. STEWART: Because I drove him crazy.

Mr. CHARLAP: That's not true.

Ms. STEWART: And I said, I want, I want a…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEWART: I said, I want to do something with you…

Mr. CHARLAP: Well, I wanted…

Ms. STEWART: …just the two of us, just like, you know…

Mr. CHARLAP: I wanted to do it, too.

HANSEN: Bill, do you remember your mom singing to you?

Mr. CHARLAP: I think any child has a recollection of their mother singing. In my case, it was a world-class voice.

(Soundbite of song, "Always")

Ms. STEWART: (Singing) I'll be loving you, always with a love that's true, always. When the things you've plan need a helping hand, I will understand, always, always…

HANSEN: What a family to grow up in. I mean, filled with music. Bill, I bet there was no doubt that you would get into music.

Mr. CHARLAP: I don't ever remember a time when the piano wasn't central and important in my life.

Ms. STEWART: I'll attest to that.

Mr. CHARLAP: One of the things I remember so well was the energy of my father composing and writing a score, saying, Sandy, what do you think about this song? Playing some of the song, my mother's listening to it. She's singing it back to him. They're talking to each other about the music. I remember that.

(Soundbite of song, "Here I am in Love Again")

Ms. STEWART: (Singing) When you hear it, you'll go through the floor. I was burned once before, yet here I am in love again. Oh, what a sweet…

HANSEN: You do your father's songs, you late husband's songs, Moose Charlap, on this CD that you've recorded together. One is from the score of "Kelly," "I'll Never Go There Anymore".

Ms. STEWART: Right.

HANSEN: Was it almost natural for you to record it together?

Mr. CHARLAP: I think so. One of things about that song is the longing for a lost love.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Never Go There Anymore")

Ms. STEWART: (Singing) A boy I once knew. We kissed. I loved him. We were…

Mr. CHARLAP: It sounds unlike any other American popular song that I can think of. In fact…

Ms. STEWART: Well, sweetie, it wasn't really written as a popular song. It was written as a love duet for the two young lovers in the show.

Mr. CHARLAP: Sure. This was sort of the popular version of that song.

Ms. STEWART: Exactly.

Mr. CHARLAP: But the song received a really incredible compliment in a New York Times magazine article on Steven Sondheim. They asked him of a number of songs that he wished he had written, and one of those was "I'll Never Go There Anymore".

HANSEN: Big compliment.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Never Go There Anymore")

Ms. STEWART: (Singing) How charming they were. Me minding those kids and running from boys, and writing those words on a busted fence, and playing those games made up just like that. The silly things we did that made so much sense.

HANSEN: What was the process like for you two in the studio doing this?

Ms. STEWART: I can't even describe what it feels like to work with him. Not because he's my son, because he's such a great artist and has so much to give as an accompanist. It's - to me it's a mindblower. And not because he's…

Mr. CHARLAP: You sound like my mother.

Ms. STEWART: No, not because I'm your mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEWART: Only words a mother could say? No, only if it's the truth.

Mr. CHARLAP: Thank you, mom. I agree with you. Thank you very much.

HANSEN: You've been described, the two of you, that you almost have a telepathic way of playing.

Mr. CHARLAP: Well, I think that that's true, because back to hearing my mother sing to me - when I play a song, I always hear the lyrics in my head. And often, who I hear singing it is my mother. And often, my phrasing might be something she might phrase.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHARLAP: I know there have been times when I might be playing in a club and I might play something, and look at her and she'll smile because she knows I just phrased something that's right out of her book.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHARLAP: I think there is a very natural sense of where she's going to phrase, what's she's going to do dynamically. I can feel it coming, and I think that it's likely the same for her.

HANSEN: Is it? Describe how it is for you, Sandy.

Ms. STEWART: Well, It's just very easy for me because I know wherever I'm going to go vocally or dramatically with a lyric, I know he's going to be right there and it sounds like not just a piano is accompanying me. There are times when it's - I really feel like there are several musicians working with me. Nothing is missing in the arrangement.

(Soundbite of song, "Where is Me?")

Ms. STEWART: (Singing) All of my old-fashioned views. Love is ancient as yesterday's news. So I thought wish me well. Let's pretend it's the first time I said it's the first time I fell.

HANSEN: Sandy, tell us about the song "Where is Me?"

Ms. STEWART: That song was written by a very dear friend of mine, Arthur Siegel, who has passed on. And years ago, when Arthur wrote the song, he had played it for me. And I said, wow, that's such a woman's song.

(Soundbite of song, "Where is Me?")

Ms. STEWART: (Singing) A woman is the property of everyone she loves in her life. She assumes the face of sweetheart, mistress, mother, wife.

Ms. STEWART: It's about the typical I would say, housewife, who lends herself to her children, her husband, her friends, and realizes that what is she doing for herself. What is she doing with her life other than giving, giving, giving, giving?

(Soundbite of song, "Where is Me?")

Ms. STEWART: (Singing) I'm my children's mother; my husband's wife is here. I'm a sister of my brother, but where in the world is me? I'm so many people; I have no identity. Somewhere in the shuffle, I guess I lost track of me.

And women always come up to me and say, wow, that's what I feel like, you know.

Mr. CHARLAP: It's very insightful.

HANSEN: Yeah. Well, to quote the title of your CD, it really sounds like for both of you, your "Love Is Here To Stay.

Ms. STEWART: Absolutely. And happy Mother's Day to you, Liane.

HANSEN: Thank you. Thank you.

Mr. CHARLAP: Happy Mother's Day to you, Mom.

Ms. STEWART: Thank you, darling.

HANSEN: Sandy Stewart and her son, Bill Charlap. Sandy Stewart joined us from Florida; Bill Charlap joins us from New York. And their CD on the Blue Note label is "Love is Here To Stay". Thank you so much both of you.

Mr. CHARLAP: Thank you, Liane.

Ms. STEWART: Thank you.

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Louise Hansen's daughter, Liane.

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