and John Pizzarelli
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
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.