At a time where the masses have grown to accept the “force feeding” of talent via the “American Idols” and “Americas Next Talent,” the art of learning the great American Songbook as well as listening to other forms of music has been a lost art. Popular music today is a fuse of younger artists and producers that cater to record sales and a younger demographic. With the major record labels losing steam and the advent of online sources like You Tube and i Tunes, people have the choice to watch and buy the music content that they want. Radio hasn’t been much of a help since only a handful of companies own them and have streamlined their radio formats and listeners. Just when you think that the days of vocalists like Barbara Streisand or Celine Dion are no more comes a singer named Rondi Charleston. Last week I had the privilege and honor to witness Mrs. Charleston’s record release party at Joe’s Pub in New York City for her Motema Records debut “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” This is Rondi’s second release as an artist, but this recording is mesmerizing from beginning to end. And her live performance takes me back to those classic female vocalists like Streisand, Dion, and Whitney Houston.
The Chicago, Illinois native is a classically-trained musician and actor who studied at Juilliard. Rondi grew up around music all her life listening to jazz, pop, and classical. Instead of becoming the great musician that she has become today, Rondi was a Peabody-Award winning journalist who worked with Diane Sawyer and ABC’s Primetime Live program. While working crazy hours as a broadcast journalist, she maintained her passion for singing in the many New York City supper clubs. It wasn’t until she left to pursue the music full-time that she went out on a leap of faith and now she’s reaping the success of her passion, music.
“Who Knows Where The Time Goes” covers many original compositions written by both Rondi and pianist Lynne Arriale, who also records on the Motema imprint. She also dives into other genres of music ranging from Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” and Carlos Antonio Jobim’s “Wave.”
I think one of Rondi’s hidden successes is that she’s surrounded herself with some of the best musicians that have a hidden track record of knowing how to bring her full talent out. Pianist Lynne Arriale and Rondi’s collaboration of songs for “Who Knows Where the Time Goes, is almost reminiscent of the great writing partnerships of McCartney and Lennon, Strayhorn and Ellington, and Hayes and Porter. The two penned “Song for the Ages” and “Your Spirit Lingers,” which are some of finest and most personal selections on the disc.
In addition to the songs she’s recorded for her latest disc, having jazz guitarist Dave Stryker as her music director was a match made in heaven. Dave’s scope of music is so vast that selecting great musicians like bassist James Genus, pianist Brandon McCune, and Mayra Casales on percussion, helped make the vision of Rondi’s music come full circle. In fact, Rondi and her band sound and perform better live than they do on record! Her stage presence and passion for the music shows in the first 10 minutes of the show.
Its about time that a vocalist like Rondi Charleston is on the scene right now. The fact that her music isn’t industry driven and is back to the basics of original and authentic material. I admire what she and Motema Records founder Jana Herzen have done to and with the music over the last couple years. The idea of letting the artist evolve and grow is so missing in the record industry right now and Mrs. Charleston’s path to excellence is in the step in the right direction.