If jazz pianist Lenore Raphael has her way, lots of toes will be tapping in the Triangle. The world-renowned Steinway artist hopes others will swing with her as she makes melodies dance from the keyboard.
"It's about the ability to express what I do and have people respond," Raphael said. "It's the emotional connection you get with an audience."
The Cary resident plans to connect with concertgoers in Apex when she performs Saturday at the Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex. Jazz drummer Peter Ingram of Raleigh will perform with Raphael, along with bassist Rick Eckberg and special guest David Champouillon on trumpet.
Ingram agrees that a jazz performance is about feeling the music and communicating, both with the audience and fellow musicians. While the musicians are improvising, as is the nature of jazz, they must listen and respond to one another, he said. That musical conversation came easy when Ingram and Raphael first played together.
"It's a pleasure to play with her," Ingram said. "It's great fun and she's quite delightful."
Three years ago, Raphael moved to Cary to be close to her grandchildren. While she and her husband maintain an apartment in New York City to stay connected to that jazz scene, Raphael also is finding her niche in the Triangle.
Soon after relocating, Raphael connected with Ingram, who shared his insight about the local jazz scene and introduced her to community members. Ingram owned the Frog and Nightgown in Raleigh from 1968 to 1975. The jazz club was a major performance venue for the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Although the area now lacks a club dedicated to jazz concerts, Ingram said there is a large interest in the genre.
Finding the Halle
Renee Anderson of the Halle Cultural Arts Center agrees. Raphael drew a large crowd when she first performed at the center and her concerts fill the venue each time she performs, Anderson said.
"People are thrilled to have a place to come to hear this type of music," she said. "I'm so pleased that she found us and we found her."
Raphael just happened upon the Halle center while visiting downtown Apex soon after moving to Cary. When she walked in, she was impressed by the concert hall and asked about playing jazz there.
"It was like a buried treasure," Raphael said.
An artist of Raphael's caliber adds credibility to the Halle center, alerting residents about the quality performers the venue attracts, Anderson said. Raphael's esteem is not unfounded. Ingram said it's revealing that she is a Steinway artist. "Only the best of the best" receive that designation, he said.
Raphael enjoys performing at the Halle center so much that she is planning to do a live recording of a concert she will perform there in June with Ingram and bassist Carroll V. Dashiell Jr.
Drawn to improvising
Raphael was drawn to the art of improvisation and self-expression as a child taking classical lessons in the Bronx.
"The idea of being able to create music and not having to be restricted to what somebody else wrote was appealing," she said.
When Raphael heard jazz trumpet player Clifford Brown, young Raphael couldn't resist sitting down to play along with the recording. She hasn't stopped since. She still plays along with recordings of her favorite artists, such as jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, whose music inspired her to pursue life as a professional jazz musician.
She was raising two young boys in New Jersey and performing jazz locally when she got her first gig in New York. She released her first CD, "The Whole Truth," in 1991, and in 1998, she started traveling beyond the New York City area to perform. She has since recorded a few more CDs and hosts her own radio show, "Lenore Raphael's Jazz Spot," on the website Pure Jazz Radio.
Raphael continues to enjoy touring. Cary provides a convenient base when she tours to Southern locations such as Asheville.
When she is on tour she also shares her art through master classes, and recently taught such a class at Meredith College in Raleigh.
"It's kind of like I'm doing my part to make sure this art form keeps going," Raphael said.
Raphael hopes to create new audiences and potential jazz players through her instruction and performances.
"If they come to a performance, they're going to go away with something," Raphael said. "Something will touch them, something will hit them."