At 43 years of age, Charl du Plessis is a well-known and much loved name in South Africa. Not only does he boast an extraordinary list of accomplishments, his never-let-go attitude has also filled many musicians with admiration.
From a young age Charl had a love for music and his beautiful boy soprano voice left him
singing many solos in the choir at Grey College where we went to school. “It was initially more an urge to perform and entertain people and only later on when my voice
changed and I wanted something more reliable, playing the piano become an integral part,” Charl says. Charl’s parents loved music, but neither of them could play an instrument or had any involvement in the artistic world. As far as instruments go, the piano is definitely his first choice. “I think it is such a versatile and beautiful instrument and being able to switch between styles and genres makes it the ideal vehicle on stage as well as in the recording studio.”
Charl followed strict classical training and did all his degrees and examinations as a classical pianist before moving on to jazz. “Ever since I was a boy, I loved the idea of making up my own music and my parents encouraged the lighter music and popular tunes they liked to listen to. This enabled me to easier incorporate jazz later on when I did so at
university.” Charl is the only person in his extended family who has an ear for music. He grew up with a Steinway grand piano at his home. “It was just there for show and it was a bizarre and wonderful experience when I became a SteinwayArtist in 2010, a lifelong title bestowed on a select few pianists in the world.” He started with piano at age 9, which for some people might seem quite late, and made his solo debut in the US in 1999, exactly 21 years ago.
The brilliant musician had the opportunity to perform on Table Mountain in Cape Town and made history by being the first to do so. “Performing on Table Mountain has been a real highlight in more than one sense – the weather was perfect and I performed early in the morning with the best view I have ever had from behind a piano,” he explains. This
performance took place on International Piano Day, which is the 88th day of the year, because a piano has 88 keys. Another highlight of Charl’s career is performing in famous
halls around the world, which is something that gives him a thrill beyond words. “The moments on stage in Berlin’s Philharmonic, Shanghai’s Oriental Arts Centre, London’s
Royal Albert Hall or Hamburg’s Elbe Philharmonic Hall all add up to the numerous moments I consider to be highlights.” Charl also had the delight to work with Nataniël, an absolute
star in the truest sense of the word and such a hard worker. “This is my twentieth year with him on stage and it is wonderful to look back on so many years where we have
really influenced each other in a positive way. We also get along so much better than in the stormy early years where egos and emotions were sometimes a bit out of control.”
The drive to discover, to create something new and to put his own spin on whatever he does, has always been a big driving force in his career. In the classical world, more so
than in jazz, one pianist can very much sound like any other and Charl has therefore been keen to differentiate himself from the crowd. “This has also led to serious alienation
among some of my colleagues who could not cope so well with the fact that I did not want to fit in,” he explains. In the past three years CharI has released his first solo album (at the end of 2019), released a new CD of his Trio called Imagine, won two Sama awards (South African Music Awards) and recorded Baroqueswing Vol 111, a DVD with his trio live in Switzerland, which was released on the Swiss recording label Claves.
Covid-19 has devastated the performing arts, like so many other industries. Out of the ashes, where thousands of singers, musicians, technical crew and agents have lost all
their income, some have managed to survive by making online performances, teaching and giving live-stream performances. “I have been lucky with a great support network from my partner and friends and family who encourage me to keep going. We have recorded a special performance of my trio recently in the Atterbury Theatre, which has been available online since the end of May and I make live webcasts and performances on my website
(charlduplessis.com) and on my Patreon profile (www. patreon.com/charlpianoman).”
Charl leaves Get It readers with the following: “The hopeful message I can share, is: music is always there to comfort us, lift us up or calm us down. Look for the good stuff and don’t
just listen to anything that you think is ok. Be responsible, like with junk food. Listen to good stuff and your senses will awaken to an even better listening and more powerful
audio experience to help you make it through the next couple of months until our lives continue in the new way we will be living from now.”
Text: Suanne Engelbrecht Photos: Bernard Brand