John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey: American Stories

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John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey

American Stories

Café Carlyle, NYC, November 6, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

John Pizzarelli &
Jessica Molaskey
Photo: David Andrako

Election Day was opening day for John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey’s new show, American Stories, at the Café Carlyle, although nominations and voting polls were no part of this songbook. In their 13th fall appearance, this show is all about America in song, traditions, theater, and jazz in different eras.

I did hear occasional hints of socio-political timeliness in two Paul Simon songs: the opener, “American Tune,” a song questioning the country’s melting pot promise, and a vigorous closer, “Gone At Last.” (“I had a long streak of bad luck/But I pray it’s gone at last”).

Saluting America, you won’t get much better than the jazzy pops of surprises from Pizzarelli on guitar and Molaskey’s theater intelligence and long, lingering melodic lines. With a natural cool wit, Pizzarelli accompanies confessions of his own high school marching band days with the rousing band fun of “Jamboree Jones” by Johnny Mercer.

Coming from the world of jazz, his up-tempo “I’m an Errand Boy for Rhythm” by Nat “King” Cole, takes fire with his double-time scat, the finger-work magic of pianist Konrad Paszkudzki, and Mike Karn’s energy on bass. 

On the other end of the emotional scale, Molaskey settles into Stevie Nicks’ heartfelt personal decision-making space with “Landslide.” Whether in a standard like Pizzarelli’s gentle treatment of “As Time Goes By” (Herman Hupfeld) or in the duo’s ruminating on technology versus humanity through Miles Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven,” their songs are a solid part of Americana as portrayed by American songwriters. 

Except for George Harrison, of course, who is British. A highlight of the show comes when Pizzarelli plays Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” paired with Molaskey’s stunning vocal rendition of “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (Norman Gimbel/Charles Fox), a haunting exploration of love and humanity. As Pizzarelli performs a melancholy trip on a train with “I Thought About You” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Mercer), Molaskey is musing and “Waitin’ for the Train to Come In” (Sunny Skylar/Martin Block/Peggy Lee).

Stephen Sondheim is included with “Children and Art,” from Sunday in the Park with George  and “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods. A lesson from Rodgers & Hammerstein, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” comes from South Pacific, leading the show toward the end with Paul Simon’s gospel anthem, “Gone At Last.”

Serving as a Pizzarelli audience-pleasing encore was “I Like Jersey Best,” (Joe Cosgrove) speeding down the turnpike with some special (faux) friends, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, James Taylor, and the Beach Boys.

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.