John Pizzarelli pays tribute to his jazz legacy at Sunset.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
For John Pizzarelli, jazz is a family business, and not just because he’s the son of esteemed guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. A suavely swinging vocalist and guitarist with a gift for delivering brisk and breezy standards, Pizzarelli has honed a vast repertoire of songs covering nearly the entire 20th century, from Berlin to the Beach Boys.
When Pizzarelli performs at the Sunset Center on Friday as part of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Spring Concert Series, he’ll be focusing on material from his delectable new album Knowing You, his sixth release for Telarc. The title’s intimation of intimacy is a concept rather than a ploy, as Pizzarelli has assembled a program linked by his relationships with the composers and lyricists, including “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Quality Time.”
Think of it as Two Degrees of Pizzarelli, as he tips his hat to songwriters whom he also counts as friends, such as Alan Bergman, Dave Frishberg, Dan Barrett and Johnny Mandel, and composers whose families have embraced him, such as Jimmy McHugh, Saul Chaplin’s daughter Judy, Tita Cahn, and Arthur Schwartz’s son Jonathan, the great New York radio personality.
“My wife often says I have more continuity in my life than anyone she’s ever known,” Pizzarelli says from the couple’s Manhattan apartment high above Lexington Avenue. “I look at it like I’ve been in this car for 15 years, and I finally got out to look at what’s in the trunk. Knowing You was a way to stop and look back at songwriters and musicians who I’ve made connections with.”
Pizzarelli’s penchant for sticking close to home creatively can also be seen in his band, which features his brother, Martin, on bass. He worked with the same pianist for a dozen years, and when the piano chair opened up last year, he recruited Larry Fuller, a hard-swinging player best known for a long stint in the trio of the late great bassist Ray Brown. But Pizzarelli’s tight web of musical connections shouldn’t be mistaken for a tradition-bound attitude.
Over the past decade, Pizzarelli has grown increasingly confident with the more emotionally expansive chapters of the American Songbook, tackling standards by the likes of Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen, and Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. He’s delved deeply into the Brazilian songbook, recording a lovely album of bossa novas. And he’s developed jazz arrangements of pop songs, which he covered on a highly effect CD of swinging versions of Beatles classics.
“I don’t look at the American Songbook as finite,” Pizzarelli said. “There are second and third tier songs that are better than the ones we know, like Jimmy McHugh’s “Say It (Over and Over Again)” and “I just Found Out About Love.” I look at it as a style as opposed to a period of time. That’s why this style is still around.”
Few people are doing more to keep the style fresh than Pizzarelli and his wife, vocalist Jessica Molasky. He recently recorded a new album with the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. In another cool connection, Arthur Schwartz supplied them with a Quincy Jones arrangement of “In the Wee Small Hour,” written for Frank Sinatra when he was performing with the Count Basie Orchestra.
“When Sinatra went out with the Basie Band, Quincy was conducting,” Pizzarelli said. “But there weren’t any ballads in the book, so Q wrote this beautiful chart. I think Sinatra only sang it once, and it’s never been recorded, so that was pretty thrilling.”
925-275-9255 or montereyjazzfestival.org
John Pizzarelli plays the Sunset Center, San Carlos at Eighth in Carmel, on Friday, April 7, at 8pm. $32-$57,