Review: John Pizzarelli

John Pizzarelli, top exponent of cabaret’s jazzier side, gives us a show in tribute to jazz piano great George Shearing, who was known for his urbane sound and light, genteel touch – much as Mr. Pizzarelli is today. This show at Birdland Jazz Club opens with “Lullaby of Birdland”, a jazz standard which Shearing composed as the theme for a live broadcast from the club in 1952.

John plays guitar in an amazingly fluid and elegant style, with nonpareil mastery of a technique called “guitar harmonics” that produces high notes of extraordinary expressiveness. He outdid himself with this technique in “A Shine on Your Shoe”: he had me wondering “where is that violin? Where are those bells?” All these impersonations of other instruments accomplished with harmonics. Stunning.

Pizzarelli brilliantly interprets music in many ways. He has a particular genius for chordal improvisations, finding hidden musical meanings in the most familiar of standards. Also, as a singer John is very sensitive to the multiple meanings a good lyric can have, and has an uncanny ability to communicate several at once. Both qualities are ideal when assaying Shearing’s repertoire.

It’s not that surprising for Pizzarelli to do a show exclusively devoted to the memory of George Shearing. Their styles align very naturally, and in fact they recorded an album together in 2002, The Rare Delight of You. As always, John performs with astonishing elan and profound musical intelligence. Neither jazz nor cabaret gets much better than this. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see