John Pizzarelli

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John Pizzarelli

Café Carlyle, NYC, March 20, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

John Pizzrarelli
Photo: David Andrako

John Pizzarelli is in his prime. The centennial of Nat King Cole’s birth begins next year, but Pizzarelli is glad to take a jump start and begin his tribute right now at the Café Carlyle.

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His father, jazz guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli, had told him, “Learn from the source,” and the source for John was Nat.

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Specifically, he turned to the Capitol release of The Best of Nat King Cole Trio — Volumes 1 and 2,  a landmark collection of the Cole compendium, and Pizzarelli was inspired by the breezy simplicity of the trio that featured Cole on piano, Oscar Moore on guitar, and Johnny Miller on double bass. With his familiar cool vocals and articulate guitar, Pizzarelli heads his own quartet, featuring Mike Karn on bass, Andy Watson on drums, and an impossibly nimble-fingered Konrad Paszkudzki on piano, all getting their moments to shine in smashing solos and exhilarating combos.

They start their current Cole pre-centennial celebration with the familiar easy swing of “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg/Billy Rose), slide into Cliff Burwell/Mitchell Parish’s “Sweet Lorraine,” and heat up the tempo for Cole’s “I’m An Errand Boy for Rhythm (Send Me)”—where “every gal and gator goes!” Pizzarelli’s scat melts into the sound of the guitar, and with the storm of driving songs like “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Ben Bernie/Ken Casey/Maceo Pinkard) and a rhythmic encore, “I Know That You Know” (Vincent Youmans/Anne Caldwell), the quartet ignites at dizzying speed.

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Perfectly suiting Pizzarelli’s sense of humor are the witty “Frim Fram Sauce” (Redd Evans/Joe Ricardel) and Danny Barker and Vernon Lee’s “Save the Bones for Henry Jones (‘Cause Henry Don’t Eat No Meat).”

Pizzarelli wrote an original catchy food song with Grover Kemble, “Headed Out to Vera’s.” It’s a true story, says Pizzarelli, dedicated to his own family’s cooking dynamo, Aunt Vera (who said she hated the song).

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From moods of jive in Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66″ (Bobby Troup) to the bluesy sensuality of Andy Razaf and Don Redman’s “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” and “Baby, Baby All the Time” (Troup) with a touch of Neal Hefti’s “Midnite Blue,” Pizzarelli presents a generous hour of musical treats. The sounds and songs of Nat King Cole, through the talent of John Pizzarelli and his first-class band of players, is as good as it gets.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.