During the original 1957 Broadway run of “West Side Story,” composer Leonard Bernstein heard that each night the final curtain call was occurring 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. Baffled, he went to see the show.
What Bernstein found out didn’t please him. The tempo of his masterful score had been sped up. When the performance was over, Bernstein made his way down to the orchestra pit to confront the conductor but found out he was already gone — making his way, apparently, to Grand Central Terminal to catch the last train at 11:10 p.m. to Westchester.
The timing of Saturday night’s tribute to Bernstein at Port Washington’s Landmark on Main Street theater, on the other hand, is perfect. The Saturday night concert by the Bill Charlap Trio devoted to the songs of the American maestro celebrates the centennial of the acclaimed composer and conductor’s birth (he would have turned 100 in August).
Bernstein, who died in 1990, “had composed a symphony before he had ever written a song,” Charlap has noted, adding that Bernstein’s compositions offer more than just a blueprint. “There is so much underlying the melody, the harmony and lyrics. All the parts may not be heard, but they are felt.”
Charlap, a Grammy Award-winning jazz musician, has gained a formidable reputation as a master interpreter of Bernstein’s music, even though, as critic Robert R. Calder explains, Bernstein’s “musical conception didn’t favor separable items that go easily into the shorthand of melody lines and/or chord sequences jazz improvisers use.”
“There is a balance between Bernstein’s music and notes and our way of shaping and coloring it,” Charlap says of how he and two fellow jazz musicians, drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Peter Washington, translate Bernstein’s repertoire. “We are embracing his music in our language.”
Born into a musical family, Charlap is a natural for interpreting the standards. His father, Mark “Moose” Charlap, was a Broadway songwriter, best known for his original score for the 1954 musical “Peter Pan.” Sandy Stewart, his mother, was a singer who appeared as a regular guest on “The Perry Como Show” and received a Grammy nomination for her 1962 recording of “My Coloring Book.” The two collaborated on the acclaimed 2005 album “Love Is Here to Stay,” which, along with familiar tunes by standout contributors to the great American songbook — Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin — also features songs written by Charlap’s father.
Notable, too, among the world-class jazz pianist’s releases is “Somewhere,” an all-Bernstein affair that includes many of the innovative arrangements headlining Saturday’s performance, from the wistful title song to the bluesy “Big Stuff” to the joyfully, exuberant “America.”
“Bernstein’s music speaks clearly, broadly and singularly when you drop the needle anywhere on the record,” Charlap says. No doubt the music his trio performs in Port Washington will be extremely recognizable, “but hopefully in a way,” he says, “the audience has not heard it before.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, Landmark on Main Street, 232 Main St., Port Washington
INFO $30-$40; 516-767-6444, landmarkonmainstreet.org