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World-renowned guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli has been hailed by the Boston Globe for “reinvigorating the Great American Songbook and re-popularizing jazz.” The Toronto Star pegged him as “the genial genius of the guitar.” And the Seattle Times saluted him as “a rare entertainer of the old school.”
Established as one of the prime contemporary interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli has expanded that repertoire by including the music of Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Antônio Carlos Jobim and the Beatles. His themed shows, often performed with his wife Jessica Molaskey, suggest there is no limit to Pizzarelli’s imagination or talent.
The New York Times called their recent “My Generation” show “brilliant,” raving the couple “embrace the present, or what used to be the present, and reflect on the passage of years. Like all of their shows, ‘My Generation’ is deeply felt. You have a strong sense that they are baring their personal struggles and resetting their compasses as they go forward.”
An earlier rave from the Times noted, “The ability to infuse pop and jazz with a Chekhovian wisdom about life’s ups and downs is the special gift of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, long-married musical partners whose work gets deeper each year.”
Having concentrated on the music of Paul McCartney, Johnny Mercer and Frank Sinatra over the last two years, Pizzarelli has returned to the bossa nova of Antônio Carlos Jobim with his July 28, 2017 Concord Jazz release Sinatra & Jobim @ 50. With co-vocalist Daniel Jobim, grandson of the legendary Brazilian composer, the two explore songs Sinatra and Jobim recorded in 1967 and 1969 as well as add new songs to the mix flavored with the spirit of the classic Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim album.
For an artist The New York Times calls “one of the foremost interpreters of Jobim’s bossa nova classics,” the step was natural.
“We had a very successful run in Brazil [in 2016] and my manager said you should think about making another Brazilian record,” Pizzarelli says referring to his 2004 release Bossa Nova. “I looked around at what would make sense in terms of an anniversary.”
Homing in on the Sinatra-Jobim sessions, John says, “We had an advantage: Daniel had performed a number of those things with us at the Café Carlyle two years earlier.” Like Sinatra and Jobim, who started their sessions in January 1967, Pizzarelli and company were finished in three days of recording—in January 2017.
Pizzarelli’s latest album for Concord is a follow-up to his wildly successful Midnight McCartney, an album The New Yorker said “may be the best collection of McCartney covers ever recorded.”
Since its release in 2015, Pizzarelli has toured North America, South America, Asia and Europe performing shows centered on Frank Sinatra’s centennial, the songs of Johnny Mercer and a McCartney program in which his quartet is joined by strings and a horn section. He also tours on a double bill with pianist Ramsey Lewis and is looking forward to touring a celebration of Nat King Cole’s music for his centennial, which will be in 2019.
“His sound was singular and inspired,” says Pizzarelli, who started playing guitar at age six, following in the tradition of his father Bucky. “I’ve always said we’re an extension, a 21st-century version of what that group was.”
While plenty of jazz greats influenced his work—Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry and Slam Stewart, among others—Cole has been Pizzarelli’s hero and foundation over the last 25 years. He devoted two albums to his music, Dear Mr. Cole in 1994 and P.S. Mr. Cole, recorded and released five years later.
Pizzarelli’s solo recording career started in 1990 with My Blue Heaven on Chesky Records. He played clubs and concert halls on the jazz circuit, opening for such greats as Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis and Rosemary Clooney. In 1993, he was honored to open for Frank Sinatra’s international tour and then joined in the celebration for his 80th birthday at Carnegie Hall, bringing down the house singing “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do” with his father accompanying him.
After recording albums for RCA devoted to torch ballads (After Hours), classic swing and bold originals (Our Love Is Here to Stay), holiday songs (Let’s Share Christmas) and the Fab Four (John Pizzarelli Meets the Beatles), Pizzarelli signed with Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group. His string of successful albums started in 2000 with Kisses in the Rain, a diverse set of standards and original tunes that showcase the spontaneity of his live performances within a studio setting, followed by Let There Be Love.
On his 2002 album, The Rare Delight of You, Pizzarelli teamed up with veteran pianist George Shearing. In the tradition of classic quintet-and-vocalist recordings, they lay down great standards (including “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” “If Dreams Come True” and “Lost April”) as well as a couple originals, all with vibrant arrangements. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the John Pizzarelli Trio along with pianist Ray Kennedy and bassist/brother Martin Pizzarelli, Live at Birdland was released in April 2003. This two-disc set seamlessly blends James Taylor folk with Gershwin and Van Heusen standards, in addition to original Pizzarelli compositions. After listening to the recording, a JazzTimes critic raved, “Spend five minutes with Pizzarelli and you’ll fully appreciate his inimitable warmth, humor and munificence of spirit.”
In 2004, Pizzarelli made his first album of Brazilian music, Bossa Nova. Produced by Russ Titelman, the acclaimed disc features several Brazilian musicians including drummer Paulo Braga, pianist César Camargo Mariano and vocalist Daniel Jobim. According to Billboard, “His performance throughout, as both vocalist and guitarist, is exceptional.”
Knowing You, Pizzarelli’s 2005 release, pays homage to the many talented musicians and songwriters he’s met throughout his career, among them Jimmy McHugh, Sammy Cahn, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Johnny Mandel and Brian Wilson. The Associated Press called the disc “A classy, urbane session. The rich colors make this among the best of Pizzarelli’s albums.”
In 2006, Telarc introduced Dear Mr. Sinatra, John’s tribute set to “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” featuring the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The collection features John Clayton’s clever reworking of standards such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “You Make Me Feel So Young,” as well as songs written for Sinatra, “Ring-A-Ding-Ding!,” “Nice and Easy” and “The Last Dance.” The New York Times praised the recording for “exploding with enthusiasm and excitement.”
His 2008 recording, the GRAMMY Award-nominated With a Song in My Heart, celebrates the music of composer Richard Rodgers and includes swinging Rodgers & Hart standards like “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Mountain Greenery” and “Johnny One Note” and theater songs from South Pacific and The King and I.
The singer-guitarist’s first-ever Duke Ellington recording, Rockin’ in Rhythm, was released in February 2010. For the dozen tracks, Pizzarelli took the tack of Ellington, noticeably displaying the strengths of the musicians in the band. In addition to a cut for solo guitar, four songs highlight the quartet (with pianist Larry Fuller, bassist Martin Pizzarelli and drummer Tony Tedesco) and seven include the Swing Seven horns with arrangements by Don Sebesky.
Pizzarelli married songs from great pop songwriters of his own generation with traditional jazz arrangements and melodies. Double Exposure, released in 2012, united the Beatles and Lee Morgan, Tom Waits with Billy Strayhorn and the Allman Brothers Band with the style of Wes Montgomery.
As he told the Wall Street Journal, “I asked myself a couple of questions: ‘How can we take the style we do and communicate it to people who grew up on Gershwin and people who grew up on the Beatles? How do we communicate jazz to the non-jazz listeners?’”
The Guardian in the U.K. was among the many publications to praise the album: “The arrangements are sharp and witty, the singing deceptively easygoing, and the guitar playing just terrific. It’s a delight.”
Pizzarelli’s Midnight McCartney had its origins in McCartney’s GRAMMY-winning 2012 album, Kisses on the Bottom. Pizzarelli played guitar on 10 of the album’s 14 tracks and backed Sir Paul at an iTunes concert at Capitol Records Studios, the GRAMMY Awards and the Recording Academy’s annual MusiCares Person of the Year Gala.
Fifteen months after those gigs, McCartney wrote to Pizzarelli to consider recording some of his lesser-known songs in a jazz style. The album hit a new chart high for John, reaching No. 4 on Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart.
In addition to being a bandleader and solo performer, John has been a special guest on recordings for major pop names such as James Taylor, Natalie Cole, Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Wopat, Rickie Lee Jones and Dave Van Ronk, as well as leading jazz artists such as Rosemary Clooney, Ruby Braff, Johnny Frigo, Buddy DeFranco, Harry Allen and, of course, Bucky Pizzarelli. He was featured opposite Donna Summer, Jon Secada and Roberta Flack on the GRAMMY Award-winning collection, Songs from the Neighborhood: The Music of Mr. Rogers in 2005.
A radio personality who got his start in the medium in 1984, Pizzarelli is co-host, alongside Jessica Molaskey, of Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli. Heard on more than 40 radio stations and on the Internet, the syndicated radio show brings warmth, humor and that long-lost “live” feel back to radio. The show takes place in their “deluxe living room high atop Lexington Avenue,” and the conversations are relaxed, candid and off-the-cuff as is the music. The show is also available globally as a podcast at www.johnpizzarelli.com and via iTunes.
John has performed on America’s most popular national television shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Conan, Great Performances as well as the talk shows of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Regis Philbin and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In 1997, Pizzarelli made his Broadway debut in the musical Dream, a revue of Johnny Mercer songs. He led a 40-member live orchestra at Radio City Music Hall in Sinatra: His Voice, His World, His Way in 2003. His instructional DVD Exploring Jazz Guitar—filled with demonstrations, lessons and anecdotes—is available from Hal Leonard. Pizzarelli received the 2009 Ella Fitzgerald Award from the Montreal International Jazz Festival, joining a select group of past winners including Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett and Harry Connick Jr.
Pizzarelli performs annual fall engagements at the Café Carlyle with Jessica Molaskey; Time magazine calls the duo the “Astaire-Rodgers of the cabaret world.” Most recently, the Huffington Post raved, “An evening with John and Jess is unparalleled. The music is, as always, magnificent; the singing is, as always, exceptional; the patter is, as always, haphazardly charming.”
Also in New York are regular stands at Birdland with his combo where he will premiere the Sinatra-Jobim collection in August 2017.