Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Mar 25th 2010 5:00PM by Tad Hendrickson
"I've been doing these [tributes] for 20 years now, so ideas just sort of go in the hopper and then you figure out what you want to do," Pizzarelli says via cell phone as he traveled between recent gigs on a tour that will go till the end of the year. "The process has gotten a lot easier because Don Sebesky is so good to work with, and I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do from the start."
It helps to have a legendary arranger like Sebesky on board for the recording session, but the latter point says a lot about Pizzarelli himself: He's grown up around music and musicians, and he's figured a few things out. The son of swing jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, John started playing banjo when he was six or seven years old, getting lessons from his father's uncles. By the time he was a teenager in the '70s, John had switched to guitar "because there were always guitars around the house.
"I just sort of learned through osmosis," Pizzarelli points out. "When I started learning rock tunes from records, my dad had me learn some duet records he was on; he wanted me to learn the other guitar player's part. So it sort of just happened that I learned jazz and played with my dad."
This approach is old school, something that isn't so common in the modern days of institutional jazz education, but it seems entirely appropriate for the son who wholly embraced the jazz tradition to take the traditional route. According to the guitarist, "Every night was something new and then we did jazz history in the car: We would be going to a gig and I would make a tape from records around the house of certain selections that I liked. Then I asked Dad questions like, 'What was Zoot Sims like? Did you ever meet so-and-so?' It was fun. He didn't listen to a lot of records, either; he remembered making them, but he didn't sit around listening to them. So he'd hear this or that and talk about the day or the session."
By 23, John Pizzarelli made his debut album, 'I'm Hip – Please Don't Tell My Father,' in 1983, and since then his career has grown by leaps and bounds. Notable highlights include opening for Frank Sinatra during the Chairman's 1993 tour and then appearing on Broadway in a Johnny Mercer tribute. But whereas his father was a journeyman guitarist better known among his peers, the tall, well-dressed son cut a striking figure onstage: His combination of guitar playing and singing has made him one of the most successful jazzmen working today. Such is the level of his popularity, he can even be found playing pitchman for Foxwoods Casino and Resort in Connecticut on a popular TV ad in the Northeast.
But John Pizzarelli remains a musician at heart and continues to honor the great American songbook each night while also mixing in a bit of bossa nova and some tasteful originals. According to Pizzarelli, the Ellington material offered up some unique opportunities: "With him, some of the lyrics aren't so fantastic, and also there are a certain amount of instrumentals that you can get creative with. Ellington allows you to do a lot of things on a record that you couldn't with [musical theater composer] Richard Rodgers. You can mix things together on instrumentals and have fun with that because it is as much about the music as it is the lyrics.
Rather than just pick the best of the best, Pizzarelli dug a little deeper. 'Take the A Train,' 'Caravan' and 'Mood Indigo' are not there; instead, Pizzarelli balances some popular classics, some favorites and some that weren't so well known.
"We could've done 'A Train,' but I didn't think it was the one," the guitarist points out. "We did 'Satin Doll' because I really liked the tempo that we put it at, and we used the changes from the original lead sheet while still being harmonically creative. 'Love Scene' has only been done by Tony Bennett, and 'Perdido' was its own animal. too, so that was fun."
Over the course of two-dozen records, there have been tributes to Sinatra, Nat 'King' Cole, Richard Rodgers, the Beatles, and bossa nova, so the guitarist seems to have it down. That said, he has no idea what he'll do for the next one. "We were just talking about that," Pizzarelli says. "They usually just come out of nowhere when you least expect it and you go, 'That's the one!' So were hoping on one of these long car rides on tour we'll find it."
Here's what our friends at All About Jazz have been up to:
'Copacabana,' Nilson Matta's Brazilian Voyage
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'Timshel,' Dan Weiss Trio
'Capitol Diner Vol. 2: Animal Style,' the Wee Trio:
2010 Bangkok Jazz Festival
RECORD LABEL PROFILE
Resonance Records: Non-Profit Jazz Label with a Mission
Craig Handy: The Busiest Man In Jazz
Barb Jungr: Smart, Sassy, Sexy
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