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"I always knew that I would play the piano," confesses 33-year-old Bill Charlap (pictured), "[and] that I would be playing this music." And just what is, ahem, "this music"? Well, according to Charlap, one of the hottest cats on the New York jazz scene, it happens to be old-fashioned piano-improv steeped in the tradition of American Popular Song. With a light touch, Charlap recalls the virtuosity of timeless pianists like Bill Evans when he wraps quick fingers around sacred tunes.

Charlap does not play standards; he inhabits them. He sips from the harmonic wellspring of Cole Porter. And laughs at Hoagy Charmichael's jokes. The kid's deep knowledge makes sense, because he is the son of Moose Charlap, who penned the ecstatic melodies Mary Martin chirped in Peter Pan.

At the ArtsCenter this Friday at 8 p.m., Charlap will preview his forthcoming debut CD on the Blue Note label, called Written in the Stars. On the Carrboro stage he might propose a pianistic toast to Ol' Blue Eyes, serving up a heady "One For My Baby"--or dust off an obscure relic from his unlimited inventory of titles. Special-guest saxophonist Gregg Gelb, a formidable hitter, should be prepared for a change-up or two. And so should the lucky audience. Call 929-2787 for details. --Joe Vanderford

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