The John Pizarrelli Trio
Bay Area Cabaret presents….
The John Pizzarelli Trio
The Venetian Room, San Francisco, 26 January 2020
John Pizzarelli is much more than a virtuoso jazz guitarist, which alone would be a career making achievement. He’s a great arranger, vocalist, storyteller, musicologist and one helluva funny guy. Making his annual visit to Bay Area Cabaret, John brought a crackerjack trio to dazzle the audience with a mixture of songs made famous by Nat King Cole as well as the music of composer Johnny Mercer. Pizzarelli doesn’t just rubber stamp his material, rather challenges the ear with fresh arrangements that may take a few bars to determine what classic he’s interpreting.
His first to numbers fly out of the starting gate like a prize thoroughbred and sounding a lot like a great old- time radio broadcast. “(I Would Do) Do Anything For You” (Hill Alexander / Hopkins Claude / Williams Bob) and “Sweet Lorraine” with music by Cliff Burwell and lyrics by Mitchell Parish swing hard with Pizzarelli’s fingers flying over the frets. A dazzling rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose had John trading delicate runs with young piano wunderkind Tadataka Unno. Bassist Mike Karn lays down the hard-swinging backbeat.
Cole and Mercer were giants of the 20th century, supplying the Great American Songbook with universally recognized music that helped define the era. Performed on jazz guitar adds both a dynamic energy to the swing numbers, or a sensitive light touch on ballads. The Cole hits just kept coming: 1946’s “Could Ja”, Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy”, and a lovely cover of “When I Fall in Love”. Pizzarelli adds delicious backstories of song creations as well as his wicked trademark sense of humor.
Mercer is represented by “Bob White”, “Skylark” (with Hoagy Carmichael), and “I Thought About You” (with Jimmy Van Heusen). “Too Marvelous For Words” written with Richard Whiting and collegiate “Jamboree Jones” shows off Pizzarelli’s tenor vocals. The trio laid into “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (with Irving Mills), the Nat King Cole Trio’s most successful single. Tadataka Unno and Pizzarelli edging each other on to the delight of the sold-out crowd.
Bay Area Cabaret is wise to include jazz artists of Pizzarelli’s stature, further broadening the appeal of this significant concert series. By the time the trio encored with a the instrumental “Nat King Cool”, based on the chords form “Sweet Georgia Brown”, you got the full sense of how much respect Pizzarelli has for Nat’s music. He said Nat King Cole is the reason why I do what I do,” and it shows in this well-crafted and performed tribute.