Review: John Pizzarelli

Pianist Isiah J. Thompson, bassist Mike Karn, guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli – this trio attacks with flashy jazziness so relentlessly that you don’t applaud for fear of missing something amazing. Pizzarelli has framed this particular act as “Stage and Screen.” That casts a very wide net, since the vast majority of the Great American Songbook comes from Broadway or movie musicals. It works out to be just another excellent show from the John Pizzarelli Trio, packed with the very jazziest interpretations of standards selected with exquisite taste.

Particularly moving was a instrumental solo from John of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “This Nearly Was Mine” and Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns”, favorites of his father, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. Bucky passed away from COVID in 2020, and John teared up while playing this medley. John plays guitar with amazing fluidity and elegance, with nonpareil mastery of a technique called “guitar harmonics” that produces high notes of extraordinary expressiveness. He mixed harmonics with regular virtuosity for this medley, to beautiful effect.

Then again, Pizzarelli finds many ways to put his own interpretive twist on the songs he performs. He has a particular genius for chordal improvisations, exposing hidden musical meanings in the most familiar of standards. After a stirring yet playful rendition of “Rhode Island is Famous for You” (made famous by Blossom Dearie), John noted that he had done several “list” songs in a row, only to launch into another list song , “I Love Betsy” from Jason Robert Brown’s Broadway show Honeymoon in Vegas (“I like Shake Shack, I like MoMA, and New Jersey’s ripe aroma…Heck, there’s lots of stuff I like, but I love Betsy and she loves me. She likes hockey, no I swear, she likes guys with thinning hair”).

John Pizzarelli embodies cabaret’s jazzier side with astonishing elan and profound musical intelligence. 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. Overall, the singing’s smart, the music’s deftly swung and the atmosphere sparkles. Neither jazz nor cabaret gets much better than this. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.wordpress.com.

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