Jazz trio finds adventure in Juneau

If you heard the sounds of jazz or stride piano floating around downtown last week, it was likely coming from the Judy Carmichael Trio.

Led by Grammy-nominated pianist-singer-songwriter-radio host Judy Carmichael, who was in town with band members James Chirillo and Dan Block as part of the Juneau Jazz & Classics Fall Festival.

The Empire sat down with Carmichael and Block, who plays saxophone and clarinet, to discuss what it’s like to resume travel and live performances as COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift and to hear their impressions of Juneau.

“I am so impressed with your COVID protocols,” Carmichael said right off the bat.

She described how efficiently passengers on her flight went through the airport-based testing process.

Carmichael and Block, who are based in the New York City area, both said that road life was starting to resume for them, albeit slowly.

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“I did a ship in August. Everyone came to the show,” Carmichael said.

She said that typically about 60 people on a 400-person cruise come to the evening show, but people are craving live performances again after COVID-19 put a pin in travel and live entertainment.

“The audiences are much more appreciative,” she said.

Both agreed the resumption of live entertainment is welcome for musicians, too.

“I really missed my friends and playing. I only hire people I adore and music is very intimate, jazz even more so,” Carmichael said, laughingly adding that musicians and performers “tend to be sensitive people.”

She said she played a lot of tennis to pass the time while she could not travel or perform.

Both said that New York City is starting to come back to life.

“Clubs are coming back,” Block said. “The energy is good in that way. But, many businesses are closed. Lots of musicians are playing in Central Park. People are overjoyed to hear people playing.”

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Visiting Juneau

Block and Carmichael said they were happy to be in Juneau because smaller cities offer more intimate venues and yield memorable experiences.

“It’s great to be at a festival like this. There’s such a personal vibe. You get to talk to the people and get a personal feeling,” Block said.

He said that the general feeling in Juneau reminded him of P-Town, or Provincetown, Massachusetts—a town on the tip of Cape Cod known for a lively arts scene.

Carmichael said the Juneau Jazz & Classics Festival is unusual for a few reasons, including the combination of jazz and classical music.

“It’s uncommon to have the combination in the states,” she said, noting that the blend is more common in Europe.

She said the personal touches festival organizers offer musicians make the festival “a delight” to play.

“Generally people don’t ask if you want to go see things during your visit,” she said. “I’ve never had anyone in Chicago ask if I want to see some great Frank Lloyd Wright. Here, it’s like, “Do you want to hike to a glacier?’”

Block agreed.

“I thought, oh boy, Juneau sounds like a great adventure,” Block said.

Friday evening’s fall storm delivered an additional dose of adventure to the trio but did not dampen concert attendance.

A socially distanced but sold-out crowd was on hand at Saturday’s Puttin’ on the Ritz concert, which featured the Trio as well as Helen Kim, violinist; Jasmin Arakawa, pianist; and Zuill Bailey, cellist and artistic director for Juneau Jazz & Classics.

“Thanks for the exciting weather,” Carmichael joked before starting her set.

She said that she had experienced sun, clouds, rain, hail and a rainbow within a short time while hiking earlier in the day. She added that the power outage on Friday night added to the adventure.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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