Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the January 31,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New Guitar Summit
For guitarist John Pizzarelli, jazz guitar did not
come first, or come to him naturally. The amiable 40-year-old
songwriter and singer, who came of age in the 1970s, was raised on
rock ‘n’ roll. It was only after he began showing an interest in jazz
that his father, legendary seven-string guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli,
began showing him some chords.
Pizzarelli and his brother, bassist Martin Pizzarelli, who now plays
with him in his trio, both played in a procession of rock ‘n’ roll
bands through high school in their native Saddle River. The John
Trio, which also features pianist Ray Kennedy, has been together for
eight years now, and their playing has been described as "tight
as a drum." "I’ll do something on a song," says
"and all of a sudden Martin just follows me without me saying
Pizzarelli freely admits he didn’t learn all that much from his
father until he began performing together with him. Certainly for
a kid interested in learning jazz, he had one of the best teachers
in the Garden State right at home.
Pizzarelli is one of four featured guitarists in the "New Guitar
Summit," a revue-style concert at McCarter Theater on Friday,
February 2. Sharing the bill are guitar wizards Jay Geils, Duke
and Gerry Baudoin.
Jay Geils, former leader of the J. Geils Band, a group that at one
point included singer Peter Wolf, has been on a blues and jazz kick
of late. Geils has been performing as a duo with his band’s longtime
harmonica player, Magic Dick, at blues festivals around the country.
Duke Robillard spent several years on the road with the rockin’ Texas
blues band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and before that, forged his
reputation in the 1970s as part of Roomful of Blues, a unique 10-piece
blues band that brought swing and dance tunes back to blues music.
Gerry Beaudoin is the founder of the Boston Jazz Ensemble and has
been hailed as one of Boston’s most successful jazz musicians.
recording, "Minor Swing," with mandolinist David Grisman and
Duke Robillard, has achieved a certain cult status among acoustic
Born in 1960, John Pizzarelli is recognized today among
the prime interpreters of the popular American songbook. He’s brought
new life to the form with the cool jazz flavor of his brilliant guitar
playing and his contemporary slant on the eloquence of the old
When I asked Pizzarelli in 1996 what his dad taught him, he said the
most important thing the elder Pizzarelli taught him about the art
of jazz guitar is that "there should be no individual heroics.
Playing as an ensemble is crucial to playing good jazz. Mostly, I
learned by way of on-the-job training."
But it wasn’t until Pizzarelli began emulating the singing and
he heard on Nat "King" Cole’s records that his own style began
to take on a life of its own. It’s a goal every jazz musician works
"When I found Nat Cole, the parameters were all there for me,"
he says " — everything I wanted to do in music was right there,
and those songs were not sung every day at that point. Familiarizing
myself with Nat Cole came on the heels of my learning a lot of Michael
Franks and Kenny Rankin songs, and a lot of other popular songs I’d
have to do when I was playing in a restaurant somewhere."
Since his recording debut in 1990, Pizzarelli has 14 albums to his
credit. He recorded nine for the RCA Victor label, including his
"John Pizzarelli Meets The Beatles" and "P.S. Mr.
Most recently, after RCA got out of the jazz business, he jumped to
the highly-regarded Telarc Jazz label. His new Telarc albums, both
released in 2000, are "Let There Be Love" and "Kisses
In The Rain."
In the liner notes to "Let There Be Love," Pizzarelli
how he "set out to make an album that was a spontaneous expression
of what it feels like to be `in love,’ from wedding day, to everyday,
to the occasional rainy day. I wanted this album to feel personal
and romantic, as if you had happened upon us playing for friends in
our living room late at night."
Pizzarelli is married to Broadway actress Jessica Molaskey and, now
that he can afford the apartment rents on the other side of the
he’s based in Manhattan. He and his wife have successfully co-authored
some of the songs featured on the new albums. He has been appearing
in commercials of late for the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut,
and has kept up a busy international touring schedule. His dad Bucky
jokes that, "This kid makes more money now than I ever did in
my best years!"
His new "Kisses in the Rain" album proved a successful
for the trio. It was recorded virtually live with the players
free of headphones and other typical studio constraints. That
allowed the three to play off of one another naturally as they would
in a concert setting. The classics like "Sugar To Tea," "I
Got Rhythm" and "I’m In The Mood For Love," suggest the
natural swing, grace, and unfettered communication between the three
musicians. "Kisses in the Rain" presents the trio in the
of a rehearsal jam or live recording, but with the precision sound
only available in a studio setting.
For years, Pizzarelli has been linked to a tune called "I Like
Jersey Best," written by Joe Cosgriff, a printer from Hasbrouck
Heights. He began performing it early in his career, and now, he can’t
leave the stage without performing it, almost everywhere he goes.
"It’s funny, we get requests for that tune all over the country.
All over the world, really," he said. "I just can’t escape
it. I guess it’s kind of like my `Born To Run’ in a way."
— Richard J. Skelly
609-258-2787. With John Pizzarelli, Jay Geils, Duke Robillard, and
Gerry Beaudoin. Friday, February 2, 8 p.m.
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