“Rondi Charleston is one of those rare artists for whom a song’s meaning is as important as its melody. Her personal, thought–provoking, original songs slow the heartbeat and raise the mental senses with a documentarian’s acuity.” —DOWNBEAT
Rondi Charleston knows the importance of a story well told. This talent, which served her well as an Emmy and Peabody award-winning producer at ABC News, has continued to blossom over the years. Charleston is a jazz vocalist who matches superior musicianship with a unique ability to craft resonant narratives. “I feel that the artist’s job is not only to capture what’s going on in the world around her, but to reflect on what’s going on; to try to make sense out of chaos, so to speak. Hopefully, I can also entertain, inspire, and leave audiences with a feeling of hope for the future,” she insists. “My challenge is to write music and lyrics that do all three.” She has been meeting the challenge since 2009 in a series of impressive releases on the Motema Music label, and reveals new depths as a vocalist, composer and bandleader on Resilience, her newest release.
Along the way, she has collaborated with some of the jazz world’s most highly respected musicians. With pianist Fred Hersch, she co-wrote the song, “The Cave Knows” for the film No Place On Earth, which had worldwide theatrical release with Magnolia Pictures. With pianist Lynne Arriale, she co-wrote “A Song For The Ages” for the 2008 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama which was featured on Entertainment Tonight. She has been featured at the Women In Jazz Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Birdland, Blue Note, Joe’s Pub, and Lyrics and Lyricists in New York, and around the country at Yoshi’s, Dakota Jazz, Catalina’s, and Mayne Stage in Chicago.
“I’ve had several chapters in my life. I’ve gone from being an actor and opera singer at Juilliard, to the world of investigative journalism at ABC News, and now, back to my first love, which is traditional and contemporary jazz,” Charleston explains. “There’s a lot more uniting all these things than meets the eye. In each case, you’re telling a story and in it, hopefully, revealing a powerful truth, whether it’s a corporate cover-up or a deep, hidden emotion. “
Music has surrounded Rondi Charleston her entire life. Her father, an English professor, at the University of Chicago, was a jazz fan who took the then six-year-old and her brother, Erik (now a renowned New York percussionist) to hear Duke Ellington, her mother, a singer and voice teacher specializing in contemporary classical music. Admitted to Juilliard as an acting student, Charleston also studied classical music. After graduation, early years singing opera led to frustration and a change of careers. “Being small, I was always cast as the maid, never the countess,” she notes, “it was frustrating not to ever get the meaty parts, so I decided to shift gears, and learn to be a cultural reporter like my idol, the late Charles Kuralt.” She was admitted to the NYU Masters program, where she won an award for an investigative report that led to a job at ABC News. Beginning as a researcher, Charleston ultimately became a field producer, winning Emmy and Peabody awards in that capacity for her work with Diane Sawyer.
Yet Charleston had hardly abandoned music. During lunch breaks, she took voice lessons from Peter Eldridge of New York Voices, and at night she played cabaret gigs in the village. “I put jazz singers on the highest pedestal, and never thought of myself that way at the time,” she admits, “but Peter saw that I had something special, I guess, and could swing, and he really helped make the transition organic.” In fact, Eldridge ended up producing Charleston’s first jazz album, Love Is the Thing, on the LML Label. When her daughter, Emma, was born, Charleston realized that she didn’t want her life controlled by the demands of her job. “So,” she explains, “I decided to focus on motherhood, return to my first love – music, and see what would happen.”
What has happened is a series of increasingly ambitious and powerful albums – In My Life, Who Knows Where The Time Goes? and Signs of Life – featuring what has become a working ensemble of unique sensitivity and range. “I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to create exciting new music with such incredible musicians and human beings,” Charleston says of pianist Brandon McCune, bassist Ed Howard, drummer McClenty Hunter and percussionist Mayra Casales, and “being on the road has only deepened the whole experience on and off the bandstand.” She reserves special praise for guitarist, co-composer and musical director Dave Stryker. “Dave is my musical alter-ego, mind-reader and sage advisor. He brings a deep well of jazz knowledge, musical sensitivity, creative juice and endless patience to the table.”
In addition to recording and touring, Rondi has recently co-created Resilience Music Alliance, a mission-driven record label, with her husband, political/social activist and arts patron, Steve Ruchefsky. RMA is dedicated to empowering artists who celebrate and challenge the human condition of Resilience. To this end, Rondi is conducting a series of webcast interviews, “The Resilience Conversations” which explore the theme of resilience with visionaries such as Deepak Chopra, Cory Booker and others. “It’s thrilling to have the chance to talk with such deep thinkers, and I look forward to sharing their insights with our community of like minded people.”