Shapira and Michelle release CD with eight sentimental favorites

By Carolyn Walkup

Minneapolis singer Charmin Michelle and Highland Park guitarist Joel Shapira released a new CD last week, “Butterfly Wings,” a collection of eight jazz standards they recorded at Minneapolis’ Bathtub Shrine Studios just before Governor Tim Walz’s Stay at Home order forced the studio to lock its doors.

The duo have been performing together for 23 years. They had a regular gig at Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis before the pandemic struck. With Walz’s Stay Safe Minnesota order continuing until at least June 1, the new CD may be the only way to hear the two together for some time.

One of the tracks on the CD is Duke Ellington’s classic “In a Sentimental Mood,” which could describe Michelle and Shapira’s own feelings in choosing the songs for the new recording. Other selections include Ellington’s “I Didn’t Know About You,” Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk” and “Pannonica,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” “No Moon at All” by David Mann and Redd Evans initially performed by Doris Day, and the early bossa nova number “Chega de Saudade,” also known as “No More Blues.”

Joel Shapira and Charmin Michelle. Photo by Andrea Canter

Michelle has performed with Shapira at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, at the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis and at Crooners Lounge and Supper Club in Fridley, among other venues. “When I met Joel in the 1990s, I was more into traditional jazz and he was more modern,” she said. “I hadn’t worked with a guitarist before; we learned from each other.”

 

“The lyrics are everything to me,” Michelle said. “I love telling the stories and getting the feeling of the stories. I wanted intimate songs that we liked.” Michelle is especially fond of the lyrics in Monk’s “Pannonica,” a song dedicated to the prominent bebop patron by that name who is characterized in the song as an ephemeral butterfly.

“I began as a classically trained pianist, violinist and flautist,” Michelle said. “I had no formal vocal training.” But after sitting in with the Wolverines Trio in the 1990s, she has been accompanied by many jazz ensembles, locally as well as internationally on extensive European tours.

 

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Michelle has performed with famed trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, the Sam Miltich Trio, accordionist Denny Malmberg and pianist Dan Chouinard. Before the pandemic, she regularly sang with the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra. She especially enjoyed singing with that 14-piece group on swing dance nights at the Wabasha Street Caves.

“I love performing for a live audience,” she said. “This is so different now.” she said.

Michelle has performed with Shapira at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, at the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis and at Crooners Lounge and Supper Club in Fridley, among other venues. “When I met Joel in the 1990s, I was more into traditional jazz and he was more modern,” she said. “I hadn’t worked with a guitarist before; we learned from each other.”

A native of St. Paul, Shapira moved to New York City in his 20s and studied guitar under Jack DeSalvo and at the Mannes School of Music. After six years, he moved back to St. Paul. It was “the best decision I ever made for my career,” he said.

Shapira found the jazz community to be more supportive in the Twin Cities than in New York. He has played with the Vic Volare Quintet, the Lowertown Trio and other local groups at such venues as the Dakota, Crooners, the Black Box Theater in Bloomington, and the Black Dog Cafe and former Vieux Carre in downtown St. Paul. Before the pandemic he had regular gigs in the Lexington Restaurant’s Williamsburg Room and at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

“Joel has been soothing MSP guests’ weary souls for years, and we can’t wait to have him back at the airport once we’re fully reopened,” said Ben Owen, director of the MSP Arts Foundation.

Shapira’s frequent gigs playing at weddings and other private events are on hold for now, but he continues to teach jazz guitar to adults in online classes. In addition to jazz, he plays classical, blues, bluegrass, rock and funk music. He also performs for Sunday services at Andrew Riverside Presbyterian Church in Southeast Minneapolis.

Michelle and Shapira have had a monthly gig for more than 10 years at Midtown Global Market, 920 E. Lake St. According to its director Earlsworth Letang, they are a good fit for the market because they “understand the venue, create a great ambience and are able to connect with their audience.”

Phil Nusbaum, a deejay at KBEM 88.5 FM, is a fan of Michelle and Shapira and their new CD. “They’re real crafters­, great interpreters,” he said, “and this format really shows their craftsmanship. It’s not a wall of sound and not about hot licks, although Joel can do hot licks.”

Andrew Walesch, who books the entertainment at Crooners, appreciates the duo’s careful song selection, both on the new CD and in the shows they have done at the supper club. “They’re American songbook standards, but songs you don’t hear as much,” he said. “Charmin seems to enjoy working with guitarists, and guitar is a nice accompaniment to her voice, which is subtle and polished.”

In lieu of a large party, Michelle and Shapira released “Butterfly Wings” with the live streaming of selected tracks on the Dakota’s Facebook page on May 19 from the backyard of Michelle’s Minneapolis home. Copies of the CD may be purchased for $13 through their websites—joelshapira.com and charmsongs.com.

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