Musical dexterity is John Pizzarelli’s forte. How else can you define a major strength of this jazz guitarist whose career dates back to 1980 and includes a string of albums that have found him paying homage to a broad array of influences? Along with expected nods to giants like Duke Ellington and legendary Great American Songbook composers Richard Rodgers and Johnny Mercer, the New Jersey native has also tipped his cap to more contemporary artists, including The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Steely Dan and Tom Waits.
This year has found Pizzarelli going back to the well and paying homage to a pair of major influences, the Chairman of the Board and bossa nova, via the release of Sinatra & Jobim @ 50, a nod to the storied 1967 album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. Having worked with Jobim’s grandson Daniel on the 2004 Bossa Nova album, Pizzarelli reached out to his longtime friend for this project, which not only found them revisiting numbers from the original Sinatra album including “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” “Dindi” and “I Concentrte On You,” but a pair of bossa nova-flavored originals. The anniversary of the landmark Sinatra outing made going down this particular path a logical choice. Moreover, the familiarity the duo had with one another meant the project was completed in the same three-day time span as the original Sinatra/Jobim collaboration.
“It was fairly easy because we had done two-week runs at the Carlyle about four years ago,” Pizzarelli recalled. “Those gigs were two 75-minute programs, so a lot of this material was taken from them. We had a number of those arrangements done, which made it a lot easier putting the record together. It was just a matter of sharpening up the songs and getting it all together.”
The product of a musical family, Pizzarelli’s father Bucky is a renowned guitarist in his own right whose chops made him an in-demand session cat who worked with everyone from Sinatra, Jobim, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Les Paul to Dion and the Belmonts, Janis Ian and Neil Sedaka. In addition to having recorded a string of albums of his own, the elder Pizzarelli is still going strong as a nonagenerian working musican. It’s a feat that continues to amaze and inspire his son.
“He still plays a couple of gigs a week and he’s a little slower, but we all are, at 91, I guess,” Pizzarelli said. “There are days when he plays the guitar as well as anybody still. The knowledge is all there, it’s just how he’s feeling. But he can still do it and I think playing music helps keep him young.”
Not unlike his father, John Pizzarelli is always moving forward.
Having recently wrapped up a string of dates promoting the new album in a group that included his wife Jessica Molaskey and daughter Madeline Pizzarelli, the guitarist is changing gears for an all-Nat King Cole program that he’ll be performing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio at one of Pizzarelli’s favorite venues—the Tilles Center. Having recorded a pair of all-Cole albums and worked with Lewis on this kind of show, Pizzarelli isn’t missing a beat in changing gears for this particular outing.
“[This show is] a fun thing. Ramsey plays a bunch of great piano solos that are associated with Nat, and I sing all the Nat Cole things. We not only cover ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’ and ‘Route 66,’ but there’s also ‘Unforgettable’ and some of the pop standards in there too,” he explained. “So it really is a fun evening and sort of unique to Ramsey’s style too, which is great. It’s Ramsey’s trio and I’m with them. Plus it’s a home game for me and I really enjoy it. We’ve done this all over and even played this show in Alaska.”
John Pizzarelli appears with the Ramsey Lewis Trio on Sept. 15 at The Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, 720 Northern Blvd., Greeenvale. For more information, visit www.tillescenter.org or call 516-299-3100.