Charlie Christenson (vocalist, pianist, songwriter and educator), the current Head of the Voice Department at the McNally Smith College of Music (St. Paul, MN), received his Bachelors of Music in Education from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, and his Masters of Music in Performance from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.
In 2005, while still at LU, Christenson was recognized by DOWNBEAT Magazine as the Outstanding College Jazz Vocalist. After graduate school, he went on to work and teach at MSM in the Young People’s Division. During this time he also had the opportunity to perform with such greats as the New York Voices, Kurt Elling, and Eliane Elias and up-and-comers Fabian Almazan (Terrance Blanchard), Linda Oh (Dave Douglas / Herbie Hancock) and Roy Assaf (Dizzy Gillespie Big Band) in many venues including the Corniela St. Cafe, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the world-famous Birdland.
He later relocated to Southern California, where Christenson focused on songwriting and teaching, both privately and for Apple Inc. Not long after, he was offered the opportunity to become the Head of the Voice Department at the McNally Smith College of Music, in Saint Paul, MN, where he currently resides.
Fall of 2013, Charlie and his trio (where he writes, sings and plays keyboard) released their first EP, entitled Shipwreckee, on New York based, Biophilia Records. He is an active songwriter, performer, clinician and in the Summer of 2014, in addition to leading the Voice Department at McNally Smith, was named the Director of the Graduate Program. This year Christenson has planned to release two jazz standards albums, Vol. 1 and 2, the first focusing on latin tunes and ballads, and the second on swingers.
Christenson grew up listening to Michael Jackson and playing drums in a Led Zeppelin cover band. In college he produced a classic rock radio show and played piano in a salsa band. In New York, he sung with big bands and avant-garde free jazz ensembles, while spending his afternoons walking through Central Park listening to Bon Iver.
Christenson has studied privately with Peter Eldridge (New York Voices), Theo Bleckmann (Meredith Monk), Kate McGarry, Patrice Michaels, Fred Sturm, John Harmon, Matt Turner, Mark Soskin and Christine Salerno.
"Charlie is an adventurer, already well into the journey of finding his own original voice in the surreal and somewhat stilted world of jazz. He is natural and creative and completely unaware that he is the real deal, which of course makes him all the more compelling. I believe in what he has to say so much already, even in the short time we've worked together - I can't wait to see all the places he'll go." – Peter Eldridge
"Charlie has a beautiful instrument and a beautiful mind. A gifted young composer, arranger and vocalist whose love and talent for jazz is a godsend for anyone worried about the future of this music. One to watch..." – Kate McGarry
"Charlie combines the best traits of a hip and forward-thinking visionary with the wisdom and depth of an old soul. He's a natural leader, balancing innovation, empathy, and pragmatism, making the tough calls when required. As a teacher and voice department head, he has built an exceptionally supportive culture with high expectations of students and faculty and deeply positive relationships." – Janis Weller, Dean
"Charlie is a fantastic human being. I think that's what makes his music so good, and why it's so much fun to create with him. He's intelligent which also makes him quick, and he brings a refreshing perspective to all situations, whether we're reworking a standard or poking at some genre between indie, rock, folk, and jazz, or even just finding our place in today's music industry. He really is the best kind of person you want to be around if you're in music - he's a great writer and player and educator, he's consummately professional, and he is an authentic friend."
– Matt Edlund, Drummer
"He is a professional educator who happens to use music as his vehicle to deliver lessons about personal development and social engagement. Charlie challenges the status quo while presenting creative solutions and making the organization more progressive and effective. Students adore him, colleagues are inspired by him." – Sarah Johnson, Counselor
"Aside from all these impressive technical skills, Charlie's value is punctuated by a high level of hangsmanship... he's a fun and professional character to make music with, and he makes every rehearsal and every gig exponentially more productive and more interesting. Creative collaborations with Charlie: the journey is a blast and the destination is great tunes."
– Katie Marshall, Songwriter
"Charlie is an inspiration. He would hate to hear this because he is a humble pain in the ass, but he is an inspiration none-the-less. I am in awe of his ability to shift effortlessly between collaborator and colleague to friend and advocate. He has the innate ability to bring out the best in the people he works with while challenging them to do more. Ultimately he is one of the finest teachers, leaders and co-workers I have had the honor of working with." – David Lewis, Communications Manager, Aalto University (Helsinki)
"Charlie is one of those rare individuals who puts their all into their work and it shows."
– Aundrea Billings, Project Manager
"Charlie Christenson has developed into a unique voice as both a singer and composer. He is equally at home with the American Songbook as well as his own compositions."
– Garry Dial, Pianist (Manhattan School of Music)
"You can tell that Charlie has listened to the source and soon will become a source himself."
– Janet Planet, Jazz Vocalist
"I served on the committee that hired Charlie, and I am happy to report that he has exceeded even our high expectations." – Kerri Vickers, Registrar