John Pizzarelli at the Cafe Carlye - New York City Article
John Pizzarelli Quartet
The Café Carlyle
35 E 76th Street, (212) 744-1600
Through Saturday March 24
For once, a semi-personal note here: I’ve been following the career of John Pizzarelli since about 1980, when he was still billed as “John Pizzarelli, Jr.” (for those who don’t know, his father is the brilliant guitarist John Paul Pizzarelli Sr., known to one and all as “Bucky”) and sang things like, “I’m Hip - Don’t Tell My Father.” Can it really be nearly 40 years that John Pizzarelli has been entertaining us with his dazzling guitar solos, warm and engaging vocals - not to mention a gift for comedy that lands on the spectrum somewhere between Sir Noel Coward and Fozzie Bear? I only mention having covered Mr. Pizzarelli for all this time in order to underscore that his current offering rates as possibly his best show ever, and it’s one that takes him back to the beginning - when it was the music of Nat King Cole that inspired him to become a singer-musician-entertainer-bandleader to begin with. Last Saturday, March 17 (yes, it’s also St. Patrick’s Day), marked what would have been the 99th birthday of the King, who died at age 45 in 1965, and for Mr. Pizzarelli, it marks the start of the Cole Centennial. Here’s hoping that he makes good on his promise to keep playing the King Cole Songbook for at least the next 12 months, because, with all the sounds and styles he’s explored in 40 years and 25 albums, there’s no body of music that suits him better. Surely no other musical icon has a range that extends from the sweet balladry of “For Sentimental Reasons,” to the organic (in multiple senses of the term) humor of “The Frim Fram Sauce” and “Save the Bones for Henry Jones,” to the virtuoso instrumental swing of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Mr. Pizzarelli’s current quartet, with pianist Konrad Paszkudzki, bassist Mike Karn, and drummer Andy Watson, is the perfect vehicle especially to explore the remarkable interplay and dynamics of Cole’s breakthrough group, the legendary King Cole Trio. Mr. Pizzarelli’s interpretations of the classic Trio arrangements are at once authentic and orginal, so much so, for instance, that you actually notice when Mr. Paszkudzki leaves out the allusions to Edvard Grieg in “Body and Soul.” Especially moving is his baby-centric mashup of “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” and “Baby Baby All the Time” (along with the Neal Hefti / Count Basie instrumental “Midnight Blue”) which brilliantly illustrate how Cole was the unchallenged master of the now-long-forgotten art of crooning the blues. At the same time, jive numbers like “Route 66” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” are still demonstrably hip and astonishingly swinging after 75 years. “Nat King Cole,” Mr. Pizzarelli told the crowd at least once, “is why I do what I do.” PS: Me too.
Photo: David Andrako
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)