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John Pizzarelli

John Pizzarelli John Pizzarelli
"Duke Ellington is to jazz as Richard Rogers is to theatre," so goes the extraverted and infectious wisdom of entertainer and "ambassador of cool," John Pizzarelli.

John Pizzarelli, just coming off his current jewel box Rockin’ in Rhythm--A Duke Ellington Tribute, which is saturated with his signature groove , is laying out a fluid enigma of energized entertainment - in the name of jazz and Duke Ellington. His music sheets are a kaleidoscope of personalities with each spin. Never pressing down the same sway or attitude, Mr. Pizzarelli is the Man of a Thousand Sounds, each with a psyche that is in no way associated with a common textbook approach.

John, for all that he records and delivers on stage, is as grounded and balanced as any one entertainer. He knows his role, enhances the roles of those who are around him, and embraces that which makes his success a reality the fans. How does one define the Pizzarelli Principle void of the common fluff and creative banter he is a guy who just loves jazz. "I guess I am an old soul in a sense." as the Pizzarelli humility tries to define himself. "I grew up with Zoot Sims and Benny Goodman in my house and my father playing on great records. To hear him (Bucky Pizzarelli) playing in concert with those great musicians, as I got dragged with him, was amazing. I always loved the joy of being brought to that music." This is the passion that is the make up of John Pizzarelli that fuels his musical swagger. "There are still people who talk about Dave McKenna or going to hear Zoot Sims play all night and listen to great music. I just wanted to be an extension of that, just to go into a room and make great music hopefully making an entertaining evening for people." That is what John Pizzarelli is and does!"

Rockin’ in Rhythm--A Duke Ellington Tribute, John Pizzarelli’s newest development into the jazz climate, is a meltdown of many talents and innovative arrangements. Along with John Pizzarelli are his dad Bucky, wife Jessica Molaskey and his brother Martin, along with special artist Kurt Elling. This is the "Rat Pack of Sway" in jazz’s purist form on and off stage. No matter what city, state, or country the stage is placed, they have fun From start to finish, this current spin is a groove fest in celebration of the work of iconic band leader, Duke Ellington. "He (Duke Ellington) was not just a band leader," says Pizzarelli, "he was a composer, personality and great jazz musician. He was jazz’s first real star, along with Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Benny Goodman. Duke Ellington is probably the best known star on many different levels," he says. In so many ways, John’s tribute illustrates just that.

In John’s world of arrangements, when it comes to dissection of the original music sheet, they swiftly become an adventure for this diverse, leading light of fret-ology. I dare say his process rarely becomes conventional, for John is not the dean of textbook arranging when the ideas start escalating from level to level. His strength is the outer surface of the jazz standard manual. I explored this philosophy as it related to the arrangement of his current project. "The fun part of the Duke Ellington (songbook), one in particular, is that there are so many things to choose from." says John. "You can do instrumentals, pair instrumentals, play a song as an instrumental and find different ways to present songs. When I do tribute records, it’s always looking for something a little different and then maybe, a way to present an obvious song in a different way." At any given moment, this does not ever seem as work to John. He craves the challenge and the expedition into sounds unknown. This is when "Perdido" came into the discussion.

"Perdido" is a cut that ignites the juices and sends them flowing in all directions. Not only does John hit the vocals, but Jessica Molaskey and Kurt Elling join in the vocal trip. What makes this cut happen are the three very different approaches (John, Jessica and Kurt) to the attitude of the song! John afforded insight as to how this song came to where it lies on the disk now. "When we started putting the record together I said, "Jess, you got to write lyrics to this." John goes further, "Perdido is sort of an innocuous song, really. It is sort of a funny, little song. It really does not have weight to it as its own song, but with that sort of be bop introduction about these two guys who decided to go down south of the border - they having too much tequila. And the next thing you know, they are married. It’s a humorous take on this silly yet interesting setup." John expressed that working with Jessica was really fun during the process. He felt it was important to have that moment for them as they worked on the lyrics for "Perdido."

We carried the conversation to "Satin Doll," which showcased his dad in typical Bucky Pizzarelli flair as the strings felt his manipulation. "My father played the hell out of ‘Satin Doll,’" a firm John states. "I played the solo on that and he went to have his gall bladder out. Then, ten days after (the operation) he (Bucky) said "I will do THAT solo." I then brought him in to play the solo on that record." There is no denying it; Bucky does rip the seams off the music sheet!

There are so many facets of the Pizzarelli principle that it’s difficult to focus in on everyone, however, one that is often spoken about is his syndicated radio show Radio Deluxe, that when the mike is potted up and hot he shares the airwaves with his wife Jessica. This for a jazz fan is a "Tune it in and rip off the Knob" show! John elaborates on how the show came to be and how he perceives it. "Basically, because of the way my wife and I interact in our shows we would be talking and people would laugh wherever we played people had gotten us together and said you should do a radio show. So they put us into a studio and sort of said, ‘We will put in music you talk and see how it goes.’" So what is Radio Deluxe? "It’s two people in their living room sitting and talking about their day and also about their love of jazz-- and the Great American Songbook and how music extends off of that. On the show, we go from Count Basie to Bob Dylan. She will pick records of people I don’t know and I will pick records of people she doesn’t know. It’s like "Hey, let’s play this record." That’s what we like about the show.

On the flip side, John has a very candid side to his personality. I wanted to get a scoop from him, something nobody knows about John Pizzarelli. With John, it was no surprise the answer was out of left field. "John Pizzarelli is making better meatballs," John proudly exhales in third party. "In the last year and a half his cooking is getting much better, as well; he has perfected al dente pasta and can make fresh pasta on a whim." Then, of course, the seasonal question came up that he is asked every time we speak: Who will win the World Series? "Oh, the Boston Red Sox by all means (Laughter)!" It’s the principle!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: John Pizzarelli
  • Subtitle: Triple Play - The CD, Performance, and Interview
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