If the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree it's only natural that John Pizzarelli would one day pay homage to the music of Frank Sinatra. John's father is guitarist John "Bucky" Pizzarelli is a noted player of swing and when it comes to vocals, who better personifies being a swingin' cat than the Chairman of the Board.
When one endeavors to cover the songs of Sinatra, one has to decide whether or not to do them in a imitation of Sinatra's vocal style, redefine them with totally new arrangements or interpret the music in your own individual voice. Pizzarelli makes the wise choice to sing the songs his way, not Frank's. The arrangements of John Clayton (with contributions from Don Sebesky, Dick Lieb and Quincy Jones on "In the Wee Small Hours") raise Dear Mr. Sinatra from what could have been a pedestrian affair to an engaging and rousing event.
In the age of American Idol a song like "Ring-A-Ding-Ding" sounds positively ancient, but Pizzarelli sells it as his vocals soar over the lively drumming of Jeff Hamilton and the horns of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Pizzarelli drops a nice little guitar solo in the middle of "You Make Me Feel So Young," as if to remind the listener that he's a helluva guitarist as well as a talented vocalist.
If the idea of five clarinet-players seems like overkill, they are used to good effect on a serene, "How About You?" where they are the only instruments until Tamir Hendleman's piano enters then recedes into the background. It's really satisfying to be able to actually hear the band instead of what usually happens with these types of albums. Too often the vocals are mixed so they overwhelm the music and the orchestra becomes little more than an afterthought. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra collaborate as equals with Pizzarelli. They're not just the backup band.
If there's anything bad to say about Dear Mr. Sinatra it would be that there's not a lot of it (the album clocks in at a economical 39:23) and Pizzarelli doesn't play a lot of guitar. On "Can't We Be Friends?" the orchestra lays out and his guitar gets featured accompanied only by drums and bass and Pizzarelli scats his way through a bopping "Yes Sir, That's My Baby."
With Dear Mr. Sinatra, the Pizzarelli family demonstrates how much the son and father took from their association with Frank Sinatra. Bucky, a guitar legend in his own right played on many of Sinatra's seminal performances and John's quartet opened for Old Blue Eyes during the 1990's.
.."Frank was always one of my main musical influences," says Pizzarelli. "I was honored to open for him with my quartet in Europe and around the States. Frank would appear in the wings during our final number, swinging and clapping and smiling. He would come onstage and cheer for us. It was an honor to play with him, and we were thrilled he enjoyed our music."
Somewhere in heaven Sinatra is probably still enjoying John Pizzarelli's worthy tribute. Fans of both artists that buy Dear Mr. Sinatra will do likewise. It's simply one of the best albums of the year.