Jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli performed two shows with his quartet at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in Minneapolis last night. Pizzarelli and his crew return for two more shows tonight. Pizarelli provides an updated take on the Great American Songbook, uniting it seamlessly with the popular music of the more recent past, as on his recording Double Exposure. We attended the first of the two shows last night. St. Paul Pioneer Press freelancer Dan Emerson does a good job describing it:
Guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli, who opened a two-night stand at the Dakota jazz club Wednesday, Dec. 12, may be achieving some semi-historic musical “firsts” with his newly-released CD, “Double Exposure.”
He is probably the first performer to combine jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery’s blazing bebop tune “4 on 6” with the old Allman Brothers’ instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” His opening set at the Dakota featured that unlikely hybrid, along with another example of Pizzarelli’s inventive cross-pollination: Tom Waits’ relatively obscure, cocktail-noir tune “Drunk on the Moon,” blended with Billy Strayhorn’s classic jazz ballad “Lush Life.”
New Jerseyan Pizzarelli made both of those genre-blending mash-ups sound completely natural. Those and others from the new CD don’t seem at all like gimmicks, but a natural outgrowth of Pizzarelli’s formative musical influences: a combination of the rock and pop tunes he heard on the radio growing up in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, and the swing-era jazz he learned from his father, the great seven-string guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.
The set also included a number of jazz standards, starting with the quartet’s unfailingly swinging version of “If Dreams Come True,” which John Pizzarelli recorded a few years back with the late pianist George Shearing.
After Pizzarelli slipped in a plug for his nationally syndicated, public radio show, he led the combo through an uptempo rendition of one of the “most standard” of all standards, Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” They infused the tune with bebop insouciance, as Pizzarelli scatted several choruses in unison with his guitar solo.
With drummer Tony Tedesco and bassist Martin Pizzarelli setting the pace, the tune transitioned into a blues shuffle for several bars before switching back to swing.
Pizzarelli followed that with “We Three,” a relatively obscure Tommy Dorsey-Frank Sinatra hit from the 1940s, which Pizzarelli recently recorded with Paul McCartney. He also featured a jazzed-up rendition of the Dion and the Belmonts smash “Ruby Baby” — noting that his father played guitar on the original, rock ‘n’ roll version.
Then the band laid out while Pizzarelli played a solo rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me,” featuring a nice chord-melody arrangement.
More Ellington classics followed, with a propulsively swinging version of “In A Mellow Tone” (spiced up by pianist Larry Fuller’s Count Basie-style licks) and “In My Solitude,” one of Ellington’s most beautiful ballads.
Fuller is the quartet’s “secret weapon,” the masterful pianist was formerly part of the great bassist Ray Brown’s fabled trio.
Pizzarelli’s guitar solo on “Solitude” featured some next-to-the-bridge picking in the style of another great East Coast guitarist, the late Tal Farlow.
The quartet’s set closer, “C Jam Blues,” provided a showcase for Fuller’s stride-boogie-woogie work on the piano.
Also included in Pizzarelli’s set were “Frim Fram Sauce,” out of the Nat “King” Cole catalogue, and “Rhode Island is Famous For You,” a song I love, from the further reaches of the Great American Songbook. “I Got Rhythm” and “In a Mellow Tone” might have been the highlights in a show full of highlights. Pizzarelli ranges far and wide in his explorations and tributes. All in all, it’s a beautiful show featuring a deeply entertaining performer.