Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Rondi Charleston is a captivating communicator. Lithe, lovely and strikingly attractive, she embraces you with a warm, wide smile, looks you straight in the eye and you're hooked by her natural honesty, Midwest charm and true sophistication. Her interests are as broad as her careers have been, and she breathes them all to life on her new CD/DVD. IN MY LIFE, recorded at Bennett Studios, features an All-Star cast she considers her musical family; Bruce Barth - piano, Sean Smith - bass, Clarence Penn - drums, Joel Frahm - tenor and Adam Rogers - guitar. The bonus DVD captures the excitement of her sold out shows LIVE AT DIZZY'S CLUB COCA COLA, presented by JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER.
Her considerable poise, presence and sheer talent landed her in Juilliard's Drama Department at age 16 after an audition with the late John Houseman. By 18, she was accepted into Juilliard's Voice Department, graduating with a BM and MM in Music, instantly working internationally in lyric soprano roles. Says Rondi, the interplay between actors is very much like the interplay between jazz musicians - spontaneous and immediate. Feeling hemmed in by repertoire, a youthful need to expand her horizons, and hungry for the breadth of a more liberal arts education, she sought to further discover the world around her and her place in it. She longed to be a cultural reporter for CBS Sunday Morning and work with the late Charles Kuralt. Her solution - a fellowship in the Master's program at the NYU School of Journalism, graduating two years later, after breaking a major cover up story of a Metro North train crash. It ran in the NY Times, prompting the Dean of NYU to call the head of ABC News to hire her. Virtually overnight, she became an investigative reporter for Prime Time Live, working with Diane Sawyer for the next 6 years, and garnering Emmy and Peabody Awards along the way for her medical investigations. Don't ask me how I found the time, but I kept singing. One night in 1996 at a gig in the Village, Diane came to see me. After the show she said, 'Rondi, I came because I like you and like working with you, but you never told me you were really good. You could do this.'
For Rondi, the search for the truth and the core of the story is paramount, whether delving into an investigative report or the lyric of a song. I think of it as deep sea diving. My job is to dive down deep and bring back the shining pearl to share with everyone. What drives me is my passion to live and breathe my honesty, truth and integrity into every song and story. That's what I hope resonates through me to my audience.
And so it does. The NY Times wrote, Utterly delightful . . . she works her way into listeners' hearts . . . her emotional range is wide. She's in tune with herself and a joy to hear. Says Show Business Weekly, Charleston's languid phrasing and superb breath-control puts a lustrous polish on her top notch band's crisp and economic playing. Cabaret Scenes calls her alluring and hypnotic. In Tune Magazine calls her a superstar of the future. The Village Voice praises her phrasing stacks up against the best of them. And Back Stage calls Rondi one of those new discoveries that critics love . . . a new voice full of promise.
There is wide critical interest in Charleston as a singer of distinction and poetic ingenuity. Charleston credits her classical training. We can sing beautiful words, but the tone of our voice expresses everything about the intent and true meaning of what we are saying. The Philadelphia Inquirer noted her unmannered, subtle style, and All About Jazz called her performance close to perfect, shifting from one mood to another . . . and remarkably poised in projecting the drama and fun of the lyrics. Says Rondi of her musical inspirations, I love the tradition of jazz and how, historically, it encourages artists to creatively move the music forward, beyond the genre, expanding one's own musical vocabulary. Her innovative, poetic sensibilities fuel her quest for interesting, fresh, eclectic material. My thirst for the modern economy of line and space is rooted in a deep love of rich, traditional music and literature. This diversity sparked her fresh takes on Sting's UNTIL, Tony Levin's FRAGILE AS A SONG, and her use of the pure, emotional intensity of Jobim's Brazilian feel on SOMEONE TO LIGHT UP MY LIFE, and bringing a new twist to a rock classic on Carole King's BEAUTIFUL.
She also uses world music influences on her original compositions. The opening to TELESCOPE was actually inspired by an African chant. It was so beautiful and so real, it seemed to call out to the stars right from the heart. Her 8 year old daughter, Emma, whose questions about the universe inspired the tune, joins her on background vocals, emphasizing what Rondi calls the childlike melody that floats over a sea of poly-rhythms and dissonance, kind of like the churning, pulsing chaos of the universe. ANCIENT STEPS came about after seeing the movie, March of the Penguins, with Emma and features Rondi's brother, Erik Charlston, a percussionist with the New York Philharmonic, on vibes as well as on TELESCOPE, making her two originals a real family affair. Each was crafted in collaboration with her dear friend, writing partner and musical director, pianist Bruce Barth. Writing helps clarify your thoughts and forces you to dig deep. It also makes you appreciate the challenge of creating a well-constructed song.
At 15 she got her first singing job in her hometown of Chicago at a folk club called Somebody Else's Troubles. One of the tunes she did that night was the Beatles' IN MY LIFE, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. Now when she sings this song she says, the movie of my life flashes through my mind, peppered with some wisdom, perspective and gratitude for the rich life experiences I've had. Bringing her modern self to well known standards, like SHALL WE DANCE, allows me to reinvent the lyric, tempo and form of the tune. It also fuels the passion and vulnerability I tried to bring to BEWITCHED, and the intimacy of ESTATE. Bruce Barth, now Tony Bennett's pianist and musical director, gave an old work horse, I'M OLD FASHIONED, a new coat of paint. I think my audiences enjoy hearing familiar tunes done in completely unexpected ways. My hope is that they listen to my recordings or experience our performances as an opportunity to suspend time, space and just relax. If they feel joyful, lighter and like they've had a mini-vacation from the staggering demands of everyday life, then I've given back the energy they've given me, and hopefully, the notion that it is never too late to reinvent yourself or discover your passion.