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Saturday, October 19, 2013

John Pizzarelli Quartet at SPACE in Evanston - October 6, 2013

My daughter, Lizz, and I caught John Pizzarelli at our local venue earlier this month.  Lizz is my one offspring who is into "old school" jazz.  My eldest kid, Ben, is more of a world music guy, and my two younger daughters are Nicki Minaj fans.  With Lizz, I feel that I have one success in implanting my musical tastes into my child.  Nothing is better than sharing a passionate interest with your kid. 

While this gig happened two weeks ago, I find myself reflecting on the evening frequently.  It was the first time I have heard a small jazz group perform at SPACE.  The venue is perfect for jazz - the acoustics are designed for music with dynamic variation and subtlety.  When a loud group plays the room, things get kinda ugly and painful.  At SPACE, the volume knob needs to stay below "5."

So the music presented well, and John Pizzarelli is a stone cold killa on the seven string electric guitar.  He plays an instrument with a low "A" string which allows him to play very cool bass lines when he plays solo guitar.  His use of the low A reminded me of a stride pianist's left hand.  In addition to being a true virtuoso, Pizzarelli is also clever and charming - New York hip in a pleasant, amusing, winking style.  The man can talk and digress far afield, but it works very well.  He is a Cafe' Carlyle player - full of banter and able to make every member of the audience feel like part of his life.

John is also a great singer. He has a casual, breathy tenor sound.   He sounds like a cheerful, energetic Chet Baker.  He can sing along with his guitar solos a la George Benson, but his solos are a helluva lot faster and harmonically complicated than the typical Benson offering.  Here is a video of John doing his solo thing.  Wickedly good and fun, too.

The highlights of the set for me were a mash-up of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" and Tom Waits' "Drunk on the Moon" and a minor key, quasi-kletzmer version of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Pizzarelli is extremely creative.  He is a musical omnivore, covering a broad range of tunes - from Nat King Cole to Dickey Betts.

The trio that backed John was an extension of his musical consciousness.  The bass player is his brother, Martin.  Larry Fuller is Pizzarelli's long-time pianist and is the sideman every jazz player and singer would love to have on the bandstand.  The drummer is the newest member of the group, and the youngest.  He had the taste and chops to hang with these veteran players.  Unfortunately, I did not get his name...maybe Lizz remembers.

The John Pizzarelli backstory is very cool.  He is the son of guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli, a legendary player still performing at a high level at the age of 87.  John is married to singer Jessica Molaskey - they often perform together, and they have a radio show (Radio Deluxe - 2 hours of great jazz and sparkling repartee').  Pizzarelli has worked hard to become a fabulous artist, but he certainly had exposure, guidance and support from his family.  John's wife retained her maiden name - Molaskey - and her comment about that decision is priceless - "I thought of changing it to Pizzarelli, but I thought that was a lateral move."

So the question lingering in my mind - is "Pizzarelli" Italian for "little pizza?"

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