Charles Covington Jr. is a local treasure who never stops giving. The celebrated jazz pianist pays his annual visit to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage on Saturday to present his electrifying arrangements of classical and jazz works.
The Baltimore native appeared on the cover of Expo in 1983 as Jazz Musician of the Year. By then, he had traveled around the world playing concerts with Zoot Simms, J.J. Johnson, Herbie Hancock, Dorothy Donnegan, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and a host of the world's finest jazz artists.
He was the featured performer for President Carter at the White House, toured with guitarist George Benson for three years and has played in major concert halls, on numerous record albums, and on radio and TV shows. Along the way, he was the house pianist for television's "BET on Jazz," and produced and was the resident artist for the "Jazz in the Marketplace" concert series at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
Covington might have continued performing on the road nonstop had the Peabody Conservatory of Music not invited him to become a professor of music and teach his skills to a new generation. His accomplishments as a teacher earned him a citation in Who's Who Among America's Teachers 2000.
|Charles Covington Jr.|
|Where: Kennedy Center, Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW|
|When: 6 p.m. Saturday|
|Info: Free; 202-467-4600; kennedy-center.org|
"I never considered teaching as a career until a couple of people told me I should think about it seriously," he said. "One of my friends admitted that he always wanted to become famous until he realized how important it is to pass along that knowledge to others. After thinking about what he said, I decided to try it for a semester. By the end of that time, I had discovered how much I enjoyed teaching. A lot of my students have become pretty famous."
From early childhood, Covington utilized his gift of perfect pitch to play the works of Bach and other classical composers by heart and to create his own imaginative improvisations. Such a remarkable musical ability would be ample for most people, but it is just one of the multiple talents Covington pursues with a passion. When he is not at the piano, he may don the smock of a professional portrait artist, play a game of chess with the skill of the U.S. Life Master that he is or devise magic tricks to include in his publication sold to magicians who haunt magic shops nationwide.
"Everything in life is based on patterns," he said. "All the disciplines I'm in kind of link together. When I was 14 or 15, I saw a magician on TV who astounded me, so I went to the library to find books about magic. I studied them until I learned all I could. Then I began creating my own tricks."