She specializes in a rare form of pre-1950s jazz, stride piano, a highly physical style of playing first made popular by Thomas "Fats" Waller. The music was long associated with big, powerful—mostly black - men, so when Carmichael first emerged not he scene - a young, thin, white, ex-beauty queen, it was a shock. Critic Count Basie was so taken with Carmichael's playing that he nicknamed her "Stride". With stride piano, the pianist alternates low bass notes on beats one and three with chords on beats two and four with their left hand  and plays figures and improvised lines with their right. "What made me unusual when I started doing that was that all the people playing stride were big men, and I was a surfer girl from California," she told The New York Times.
Reviewing her first album Two-Handed Stride in 1980, Scott Yanow wrote: "The recording debut of pianist Judy Carmichael was a major, if somewhat unheralded event. The first important stride pianist to emerge in nearly 30 years, Carmichael has proved to be a consistently creative and exciting performer (rather than imitative) within the genre of classic jazz and swing during the years since her debut. For this set (originally out on Progressive and knotty reissued on CD) Carmichael is joined by altoist Marshall Royal, guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Red Callender, and drummer Harold Jones which gives some of the music a Count Basie feel. However, Carmichael's own musical personality was already nearly fully formed by the date. Highlights of the joyous music include "Christopher Columbus", "Honeysuckle Rose", "A Handful of Keys" and "I Would Do Anything for You."
Carmichael is listed in American Women in Jazz, Who's Who in American Woman, Who's Who in the East, Who's Who in Finance and Industry in America, Who's Who in the World and in the Encyclopedia of Jazz.
On radio, Carmichael has been a guest performer on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, and also made radio appearances on NPR’s Morning Edition. She primarily appears on radio as the host of Public Radio's Judy Carmichael's Jazz Inspired, a radio program that interviews creative people from all walks of life who talk about their creative process, and how their interest in jazz has affected that process.
Her show appears on American public radio, as well as Sirius/XM's NPR Now channel. She also writes articles for JazzTimes. She produced and hosted a fifteen-part series for public radio: Pet Style Radio with Judy Carmichael.
Carmichael was born Judith Lea Hohenstein in suburban Southern California on November 27, 1957. Carmichael was taught piano by her mother beginning around age 4 and continued with two years of formal piano training. Her first public performance on piano, when she was 17, was at UCLA's Royce Hall, sharing billing with Edgar Bergen, Jo Stafford and Paul Weston. Shortly afterwards, she shared a bill with Eubie Blake at a performance for the L.A. ragtime association, The Maple Leaf Club.
Her love of Ragtime began when her grandfather offered $50 to his first grandchild who could play "Maple Leaf Rag".
My grandfather said he'd give $50 to any of his grandchildren who could play "Maple Leaf Rag" [...] I told my piano teacher that I wanted to learn it, but she refused to teach it to me. She said I wasn't good enough. So I taught myself. I learned it note by note. As soon as I'd learned it, I played it for my grandfather, took the $50 and quit taking lessons.
Her first professional gig happened at age 19 when a friend told her about a gig on the "Pavillion Queen" ferry boat, doing cocktail cruises in Newport Beach, California.
She attended California State University at Fullerton as a German Major and later, Cal State Long Beach as a Communications Major. She continued as a professional Ragtime pianist in her early 20's, eventually shifting to jazz She performed ragtime and stride at Disneyland for five years at "Coke Corner", a turn of the Century restaurant on Disney's "Main Street U.S.A." seven hours a day, five days a week...
There she met trumpeter Jackie Coon, a well known Los Angeles studio musician who encouraged her and then pointed Basie drummer Harold Jones her way when Harold was subbing at Disneyland. Through Jones, she met legendary figures like guitarist Freddie Green and vocalist Sarah Vaughan. She joined their golf foursome, and all of them, Vaughn in particular, encouraged her to make a record.
That first record, "Two Handed Stride," recorded with Basie regulars Marshal Royal, Green, Red Callender and Jones, which ultimately went on to be nominated for a Grammy Award. While shopping for a label in NYC Carmichael went to hear Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan's, who asked her to sit in. After hearing her play, Eldridge set her to Dick Wellstood at Hanratty's a restaurant/club with a great lineup of jazz pianists, and to Tommy Flanagan at the legendary jazz club Bradley's, so they too could hear the young woman playing stride. Eldridge remained a supporter of Carmichael's, periodically sending her music he wanted her to play.
Carmichael lived in NY and CA in the early 80's, keeping the Disney gig and working L.A. and Manhattan clubs and European festivals, eventually moving to NYC full-time in 1985.
Carmichael tried to break into the jazz scene in Los Angeles, but most of the jazz clubs she found were male-dominated, intimidating, and a little unsafe to be a female musician. Carmichael was the first female instrumentalist to be hired by Disneyland (and shared a dressing room with 10 men). No other woman instrumentalist was hired during Carmichael's five years at Disney and she was always the only woman instrumentalist at jazz festivals. She finally shared the stage with another woman when she was a guest on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz in 1988, but another woman onstage wouldn't happen again for over 20 years.
Carmichael has played major festivals and concert halls throughout the world. She has toured for United States State Department in Australia, India, Portugal, Brazil, Morocco and Singapore. In 1992, she was the first jazz musician sponsored by the United States Government tour to China.
Carmichael received several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). With them, her noteworthy projects include a documentary of early jazz musicians, and a project to discuss with college students nationwide the history and development of jazz piano.
Ms. Carmichael has served on a variety of music panels at the NEA. She has spoken before the National Council on the Arts and she has been a tireless advocate for fellowship grants for individual performers. She oversaw music education activities for the Port Jeff Education and Arts Conservancy, a community center in Port Jefferson, New York, near her home of Sag Harbor.
Carmichael, particularly as ambassador and revivalist of a form of jazz that peaked in its mainstream popularity with artists with colorful names like Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, and Willie "The Lion" Smith and Jelly Roll Morton, faded in the memory of all but the most dedicated of jazz aficionados, is known for being one of the most accessible jazz pianists in the business.
I pride myself in making my concerts user-friendly, [...] I want to make the concert seem like I'm playing in their living room. I don't think welcoming means a smoky club atmosphere with dishes crashing in the background and musicians with an off-putting attitude.
In 1980, Carmichael made her recording debut on Progressive and has gone on to record 13 albums to date. She released four albums in the 1980s, five in the 1990s. Two have been for larger labels. The majority are released on her private C&D PRODUCTIONS label.
- Two Handed Stride, (Progressive), 1980 *GRAMMY Nominee
- Jazz Piano, 1983
- Old Friends (C&D PRODUCTIONS), 1985
- Pearls, (Jazzology) 1985
- Trio (C&D PRODUCTIONS), 1993
- Basie Called Her Stride (C&D PRODUCTIONS), 1994
- Chops (C&D PRODUCTIONS), 1994
- Judy (C&D PRODUCTIONS), 1994
- High on Fats and Other Stuff (C&D PRODUCTIONS), 1997
- Southern Swing (Australian Broadcasting Corporation/C&D PRODUCTIONS), 2008
- Come and Get It (C&D PRODUCTIONS / CD Baby), 2008
- Carnegie Hall, New York City
- Jazz Festival 2008 Brazil
- Jazz at Lincoln Center's Fats Waller Festival
- Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice, Italy
- Tanglewood Jazz Festival
- 92d Street Y's Jazz in July
Private recitals for
Carmichael often performs alone, but has also performed as the Judy Carmichael Trio and the Judy Carmichael Quintet most often with jazz traditionalist saxophonist Michael Hashim of the Widespread Jazz Orchestra, and guitarist Chris Flory, who has also been a member of Scott Hamilton's jazz combo. Other sidemen who have appeared with her:
- Red Callender
- Freddie Green
- Harold Jones
- Marshal Royal
- Jeff Rupert
- Harry Allen
- George Duvivier
- James Chirillo
- Ray Brown
Carmichael has authored two books on stride piano:
Her arrangement of "Ain't Misbehavin'" also appears in an anthology of jazz standards:
Judy Carmichael is a prolific author, with numerous articles about jazz music, history, and culture that appear in JazzWeek and elsewhere.
Carmichael is also the nationally syndicated host of Judy Carmichael's Jazz Inspired, a National Public Radio show and Sirius/XM show and podcast that debuted in 1993 and broadcasts on over 170 stations throughout North America. It is also broadcast on Sirius XM Satellite Radio's NPR NOW Channel and abroad. The show celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013. She has interviewed numerous celebrities, including an interview with Raiders of the Lost Ark actress Karen Allen, actor Chevy Chase, singer Tony Bennett, rock pianist Billy Joel, actors John Lithgow, Robert Redford, F. Murray Abraham, and many more.
- Judy Carmichael Biography Oldies.com
- Steinway Artists
- Grammy nominated jazz pianist Judy Carmichael to perform Nov 14 at Cleveland State, Cleveland Daily Banner, November 10, 2011
- Judy Carmichael AllMusic.com
- Chronicle by Nadine Brozan, New York Times, September 12, 1996
- About Judy Carmichael JudyCarmichael.com
- Judy Carmichael's Jazz Inspired Website - Home Page
- About Judy - Judy Carmichael Website
- Judy Carmichael on JazzTimes.com
- Judy Carmichael Biography Oldies.com - Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin
- AND WHERE ONE WOMAN IS PLAYING STRIDE PIANO, John S. Wilson, New York Times, November 15, 1982.
- Judy Carmichael - [AllMusic.com AllMusic.com]
- As an Ambassador for Stride Piano, She's Spreading Rhythm Around, Brian Wise, New York Times, August 15, 2005
- "Murder Times Two: A Reuben Frost Mystery" by Haughton Murphy
- Current discography at AllMusic.com
- Come and Get It (Album), 2008, liner notes on JudyCarmichael.com.
- Judy Carmichael - Oldies.com
- JazzTimes - Judy Carmichael Artist Page
- 92d Street Y's Jazz in July, John S. WIlson, New York Times, July 31, 1986
- You Can Play Authentic Stride Piano, Judy Carmichael,Alfred Music, April 1, 2011, 104 pp., ISBN 0739078607, ISBN 978-0739078600
- Introduction to Stride Piano, Judy Carmichael,Alfred Music, November, 2001, 42 pp., ISBN 1929009097 ISBN 978-1929009091
- Steinway & Sons VOL 4: Piano Stylings of the Great Standards, Ekay Music, Inc.
- Karen Allen interview