John Pizzarelli: Stage & Screen – Jazz Guitar Life Review

John Pizzarelli has a swingin’ new album out which you can learn more about below. Jazz Guitar Life also did a podcast with Mr. Pizzarelli talking about his latest release and other fun things which you can hear here.

But first

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With the release of his latest album Stage and Screen, Jazz Guitarist John Pizzarelli swings heavily into his 40th year as a recording artist with a huge nod to the films and Broadway shows that have struck a chord within so to speak. Included are the tried-and-true chestnuts such as “Too Close For Comfort” (Mr. Wonderful), “Time After Time” (It Happened in Brooklyn), “As Time Goes By” (Casablanca) and “Where Or When” (Babes in Arms) – to name but a few – but there’s a couple that may not be that familiar, like “I Love Betsy” (Honeymoon In Vegas) and “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” (70, Girls, 70) which – if John has anything to say about it – are destined to soon become classics.

In total, there are twelve tunes that take us back to a time when swing, melody, “well-dressed” lyrics and harmonically sound writing was king. This observance to the craft of songwriting by the likes of Rodgers & Hart, Cahn & Styne, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lane & Lerner, Kander & Ebb and Jason Robert Brown – amongst other notables – provides John with a solid framework to add his own unique qualities as a Vocalist, Guitarist and Arranger, which he does with skilled nimbleness and enjoyment. As this is a Jazz Guitar related magazine however, I will focus on John’s Guitar playing as I am sure the rest will take care of itself once you give this album – or any of his 29 previous recordings – a listen.

The name Pizzarelli should speak volumes of what is in store when you’re considering buying a John Pizzarelli album. But if you are unaware of John’s lineage, briefly, he comes from a very musical family with his late father, the great Jazz Swing Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, sitting proudly at the head of the table. So it may come as no surprise that John is influenced more by the George Barnes, Oscar Moore and Bucky Pizzarelli school of playing than the Kurt Rosenwinkel or John Scofield introspective style of cerebral interpretation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂

That being said, John swings hard and can effortlessly blow through the changes with the best of them. Just check out his fleet-fingered soloing throughout the up-tempo “I Want To Be Happy” (No, No, Nanette) as he pulls out all the stops with blistering lines, a burning unaccompanied chord solo and some great four-to-the-bar chugging ala Freddie Green and his own Mr. Pizzarelli senior. If you’re fingers ain’t snapping or your feet ain’t tapping, then call your doctor 🙂  

“Too Close For Comfort” , “You’re All The World To Me” (Royal Wedding) and “Coffee In A Cardboard Cup” finds John playing in a similar fashion but this time he scats along with his solos ala George Benson before he breaks into a fast paced four-to-the-bar accompaniment for the superb prodigious stylings of 28 year old Pianist Isaiah J. Thompson. In fact, this metrical vigor* is a signature feature of John’s playing style that harkens back to a time when the guitar was considered primarily a rhythmic “tool”. It is this strong devotion to both the improvised line and robust comping that makes John the total package as a player along with just being a joy to listen to…at least in my book.

There’s also a strategic element to John’s combustive rhythm playing as this album features a small group format of Guitar, Bass and Piano – ala early Nat King Cole Trio recordings – making his rhythm playing an essential and much needed component to keep the meter flowing. Of course Pianist Thompson and Bassist Michael Farn are also well-suited in this regard as they lay down stalwart and attentive accompaniment that keeps the pulse swingin’ and the playing tight! With these cats doing what they do best, believe me, the drum chair is not missed at all. Farn and Thompson are exceptionally inspired soloists as well and get to shine on practically all the tracks with the exception of “Some Other Time” (On the Town) which is superbly played by John as a moving seven-string solo guitar arrangement.

And speaking of moving, John and the fellas display their sensitive side as they slow it down on the soft Bossa-like “Where or When”, “Time After Time”, the classic and full-versed “As Time Goes By” and an unexpected leisurely interpretation of one the oldest songs on the album, 1924’s “Tea for Two” (No, No, Nanette) which works brilliantly as a ballad.**

As I wrap this up, I should also point out that Stage & Screen offers – among the nine songs that feature vocals – two instrumental tunes as well: the aforementioned burner “I Want To Be Happy” and the ambitious “Oklahoma! Suite” (Oklahoma!) by Rodgers and Hammerstein, showcasing a nicely bowed intro by Fran before his fat, round tone sets up the tune for all to explore and conversate (yeah…I know!) through the peaks and valleys of this grand arrangement. Nicely done all!

It is clear – at least to me – that at the age of 63, John Pizzarelli is still having fun making music and playing/singing his heart out. He’s not trying to re-invent the wheel or be the “next big thing”. He’s just playing the tunes that he loves from the great American Song Book and thankfully there are a great number of folk who love those tunes as well. A win-win all around. Thanks John and here’s to 40 more years 🙂

* In a podcast I did with John a few weeks ago, he mentions that he is quite proud of his rhythm work on this album…I can hear why! Check out the podcast here.

** John discusses the “why” in the podcast mentioned above. And for the record, “I Want To Be Happy” is also from No, No, Nanette.

To purchase a copy of Stage & Screen, please click the link!

Please consider spreading the word about John Pizzarelli’s new album as well as Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this review amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

If you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or visiting the Jazz Guitar Life sponsors. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂

About Lyle Robinson 338 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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