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Family Affair
By Shawn Stone

Bucky and John Pizzarelli

WAMC Performing Arts Studio, Nov. 13

It was an unusual occasion, the ever-genial John Pizzarelli explained, for him and his father to “play two sets in front of an audience we’re not related to.” The father-son guitar team—pops being legendary jazz player and session man Bucky Pizzarelli—dazzled a full house at the WAMC Performing Arts Studio on a recent Sunday with an alternately breezy and intense display of six-string prowess.

The younger Pizzarelli has staked out a successful career crooning standards with his own group, but he didn’t do much singing on this afternoon. (There also was an evening performance.) The first vocal didn’t come until six or seven songs in; the emphasis was on playing.

And what playing. The elder Pizzarelli took the lead on the opening medley of “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” and “Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” a pair of plaintive ballads that gave way to a revved-up take on “Tangerine.” John took his first lead on this one, then father and son traded leads and one-upped each other with clever interpolations all afternoon. (I couldn’t tell who dashed off a little bit of Rodgers and Hammerstein Americana in the middle of the very ’40s big-band bluster of “Tangerine,” but it cracked me up.)

At times, it seemed like a clinic in song interpretation. On tunes best known in versions by singers with strong personalities, like “I’m Through With Love” (Bing Crosby) or “I’ll Never Be the Same” (Billie Holiday), the Pizzarellis “sang” the strong melody lines instrumentally. Other songs were simply used as a starting point for electric pyrotechnics. Their choices always seemed right.

The song selection itself was classy. (And, most likely, spur of the moment, as Bucky probably knows—no exaggeration—thousands of songs.) Highlights included extended sets of Harold Arlen and Duke Ellington works, with some Nat “King” Cole and Fritz Kreisler (!) thrown in for good measure.

It also was entertaining to watch the duo interact; it was like the father-and-son quality time. John did most of the talking, and his anecdotes were choice, both interesting and very funny.

They ended the afternoon show with a blistering version of the Benny Goodman hit “Sing Sing Sing.” This was the most “rock” moment of the afternoon, with the duo finding a way to imitate Gene Krupa’s drumming before launching into the melody. It justifiably brought the crowd to their feet. There was no encore, because there was no way to top that finish.


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