The following are four interviews I was able to complete with John Pizzarelli and one completed by radio host Bill Pandozzi. They cover topics ranging from his early work to his more recent recordings and experiences.
Interview with John Pizzarelli (December 16, 2008)
John Pizzarelli: The tour has been terrific. Home now for the hollandaise. Terrific crowds everywhere. It's been quite inspiring.
T: Throughout your career, youíve performed songs from a large number of great American songbook composers. Of all the choices before you, what led you to choose Richard Rodgers as the subject of your latest CD?
JP: It was a managerial decision. The CD started out Johnny Mercer, then went originals (my idea), then Latin (Telarc idea), then stalemate, then Rodgers. My managers knew Bill Gaden at the Rodgers foundation and here we are.
T: How did you go about selecting material from Rodgersí huge songbook?
JP: Actually, I had a lot of the tunes in my head for a while. The two Chet Baker things (the title track and "Too Good to Me"), "Johnny One Note" (always a fave since the Bob Dorough record of it), "Happy Talk" (almost a cut on bossa nova) and "...Recognize the Tune (just a favorite of mine from Jonathan Schwartz's nightclub act in the late 80's) were all on my list from the start. There were a lot of suggestions, but finding the last few wasn't that hard.
T: You utilize a horn section, more specifically the Swing 7, on several of the cuts with arrangements by Don Sebesky. To what level did you collaborate with Mr. Sebesky on the ideas for the arrangements?
JP: I call Don, he agrees to do the session and the next day he has "Tramp" written! "I figured you'd do it in Bb," he said. I don't believe we talked more than keys over the phone. I did mention the shout chorus on song in my heart and it homage-ing Chet Baker's solo. Don had done THAT record so we were always on the same page.
JP: Has it been challenging replicating the arrangements when performing live without the horn section?
JP: It always is a little at first. In some respects, it never gets done (kalamazoo). But, for a change, we sat down and rehearsed what we would need to do to make the songs "pay off". Most of it is where to put solos.
T: I noticed that you referenced the small ensemble work of Marty Paich as an influence in utilizing the horns. As a huge Marty Paich fan myself, Iíd be interested in what you think of his work.
JP: LOVE, love, love Marty Paich, especially the work with Torme. I suggested we let the horns, bass and drums "drive" the rhythm section and let the piano and guitar be more of solo instruments. We sort of strayed from the Basie rhythm section sound of most of our CD's. I thought it worked really well.
T: On another topic, your Radio Deluxe show hosted in tandem with your wife Jessica Molaskey seems to have really hit its stride as of late. How do you find Radio Deluxe going these days?
JP: We are finding that too. We would love to have more guests, but we feel that there is something interesting about the flow of the show these past few months that really makes it interesting. We find that as we listen, we would like to know those two people in that living room.
T: How would you describe the concept of Radio Deluxe and how did the idea to do the show come about?
JP: Andrew Tenenbaum and Don McCollough brainstormed it i believe. As for the rest, it all happened after they turned on the microphones the first time. I said, "From high atop Lexington Avenue" and we were off. That was three years ago!
T: Youíve had a very impressive guest list for the show. Other than those who have already appeared, are there any "dream guests" that you would like to have on the show?
JP: Still looking for Tony Bennett, Diana Krall and Barack Obama.
T: After touring for most of your career with a drumless trio, youíve switched over to a quartet format within the last two or three years. What brought about the decision to make the change? JP: The Bossa Nova CD, specifically. Since then, we decided to keep Tedesco employed and it's been really terrific. I think it has given us a little more "weight" in outdoor venues and larger indoor ones. and I think it gives us more flexibility in general.
T: One look at your list of tour dates shows a very busy schedule. This has been pretty much the norm for you over the years. Are there any times when being on the road takes its toll or do you find yourself used to it as a way of life?
JP: As I get older, it gets harder. Once I am where I have to go, it's not so bad. The night before leaving is the hardest. The packing and making sure everything is in place - basses are where they should be, who will pick us up at the airport, are certain expenses covered or are they my responsibilty, etc. are the difficult things to collate. Playing the gig is the easy part. Missing certain school events are tough, but it IS what we do and playing and performing is my life and what I truly love to do.
T: In the past, weíve asked the obvious question about your past musical influences. I wonder if there are any artists who have emerged more recently that you admire?
JP: There are a ton of younger players that i really like: Davy Mooney - a guitarist from New Orleans, Harry Allen on tenor sax gets better with every note and he's already a genius, Aaron Weinstein on violin, Rick Haydon - a guitarist from St. Louis. I have gotten to record with all of these people and they are terrific.
T: Actually, maybe we could also revisit some other greats of Jazz guitar. Perhaps we could do a quick word association, with a word or two on the followings guitarists.
T: Joe Pass
JP: Marvelous solo guiatrist. Great single note "time"
T: Tal Farlow
JP: Knew the harmonies so well to songs. Very innovative.
T: Barney Kessel
JP: Such a varied career. From studio's to Oscar Peterson.
T: Herb Ellis
JP: Great work w/oscar. "Shakespeare Festival" CD is unforgettable.
T: Pat Metheny
JP: "The White Album" and "First Circle" are musts!
T: One other guitarist we should mention is Bucky Pizzarelli. As I pull out a lot of my old jazz records and CDís, Iím always amazed at how many dates Bucky was present for. What do you think are the reasons your dad was, and is, so often used by such a variety of artists?
JP: He just wants to play the guitar and he listens so well. He tries so hard to get your idea to come out of his guitar and he makes great suggestions when called upon. As reliable a musician there is on the planet.
T: While your early work is reasonably well documented, I donít think Iíve ever read what youíre first paying engagement was. What was your first professional gigÖwhen, where, and what type of music?
JP: My first professional gig was a party in Glen Hauenstein's back yard. I got $5 for it. I didn't want to be paid, but the bass player in our group said we should charge for our services. I was 13. My first union gig in New York City was at Michael's Pub, I believe. 1979, Summer, 4 weeks. The songs from "No, No, Nannette". I was the guitarist along with Allen Hanlon. It is where I learned to play rhythm guitar.
T: As we sit only four months removed from the release of "With A Song In My Heart", Iím wondering if youíre already starting to think about your next project?
JP: I am, but as you read in the beginning, it could change at any moment. Like the record business.
T: As always, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions and for doing what you do. Best wishes for your continued success as we head into the New Year.
JP: Thanks to everyone who listens and buys and supports what I do. I cannot do it without you and you are the ones who make life in music so fulfilling. Happy Holidays to all of you!
-John Pizzarelli December 2008
Interview with John Pizzarelli (December 16, 2004)
Tom: Welcome John. It's great to have you back for another Pizzarelli Fan Page e-interview. I'd like to start the interview by quoting a response you gave to a question in our first interview, going back roughly four years. You stated, "I don't know if I am ready to make an entire CD of Brazilian music, but it certainly is beautiful, genuine and heartfelt." Here we are, four years later, on the heels of your latest release, "Bossa Nova". What ultimately brought about your decision to take the step of devoting an entire CD and accompanying tour to Brazilian music?
Interview with John Pizzarelli (November 6, 2000)
Tom: Most questions cropping up among your many fans at the moment relate to the upcoming Let There Be Love. Would you tell us about this latest project and what your thought process was in selecting the tunes?
Interview With John Pizzarelli (August 3, 2000)
John Pizzarelli: I think the turning point for me was hearing the Nat Cole Trio and realizing they did everything in music that I wanted and loved; they swung, they had fun, they played great songs of all types and they were spontaneous.
T: You had the opportunity to work with some legendary jazzmen early in your career. People like Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, Dave McKenna and of course your father Bucky. What was it like to work with musicians of their stature on your early LPs?
JP: I never realized how great those musicians were when I was working with them or I would have never been able to work with them. I mean, they were my dad's friends and I knew they were great, but I didn't have a sense of their place in jazz history until after I worked with them. Slam Stewart, the great bass player, is the best example of that. He stayed at our house and would jam with us and have fun, and I never realized all the great musicians he worked with or his place in jazz history. He was just my dad's friend!
T: You play a seven string guitar. I would guess that it provides more versatility than a standard six string. Is that versatility most pronounced when you're accompanying your own vocals on solo guitar? What other advantages are there to a seven string?
JP: I think you hear the 7th string the most on my records when I'm playing the verse to a song by myself, as you mentioned. The best example of how it is used is on our CD Contrasts where you hear dad play a solo and me accompany him and vice versa. It allows a broader range and gives the guitar a fuller sound, in my opinion. Like the "lap piano" that the guitarist who invented the 7th string, George Van Eps, envisioned.
T: Your vocal style has evolved into a very unique, expressive sound. When you started as a guitarist, did you incorporate vocals right from the beginning or did that come later?
JP: I always liked singing and playing and as I said earlier, Nat Cole is really why I ended up doing what I did. The material that Nat was singing was unlike Frank Sinatra's. There were rhythm tunes and pretty ballads that were not from the same songbook in a sense. Songs like A Portrait of Jenny, This Will Make You Laugh, Frim Fram Sauce, Baby, Baby All The Time, etc. It was in learning these songs that I started to incorporate vocals into my "act" as it were.
T: In addition to Nat Cole, who are some of the less documented influences in both your guitar and vocal work?
JP: I think for my guitar playing, Les Paul, George Barnes, and Oscar Moore have been amongst the top influences for me (after my dad) and as for vocally, I seem to have taken a lot from different places, from Nat to Chet Baker to Kenny Rankin and Michael Franks to Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
T: The majority of your recorded work has been with your drumless trio. What are some of the differences in working with this instrumentation as opposed to working with a drummer and/or a big band?
JP: There is just so much needed from each member of the trio when you work without drums. It keeps the whole group on its toes because each player is so exposed. There is no "hiss" of a cymbal to hide behind or "figures" to set up entrances. Your time has to be "on top" and you cannot relent. I hope that makes sense.
T: George Shearing once noted that one of the reasons he shed his quintet in favor of a piano-bass duo during the 70s and 80s was that he could play a lot freer "without those fetters that drums frequently toss around one's neck." Does the absence of drums from your group give you more freedom, more space to play?
JP: I don't think it is a freedom but I think I covered it in my last answer. I think it is an intimacy that makes people listen a little more in clubs and concerts. It has a chamber music air to it.
T: Ray Kennedy has been your regular pianist for some years now and really seems to compliment your style very well. How did you hook up with him?
JP: Ray played some gigs around New York in the early 90s with my dad and he mentioned his name to me when I was looking for a new piano player.
T: Ray, your brother Martin and yourself seem to have complete compatibility as a group. Did that develop over your years playing together or did it happen from the start?
JP: I gave Ray some tapes of concerts and club dates we had played and then we had a rehearsal. He learned some of the originals, the song Naturally comes to mind, and swung the daylights out of them and we glued him to the piano bench where he has been ever since.
T: You recently signed with Telarc International and released your latest solo effort, "Kisses in the Rain" for that label. How has your experience at Telarc been so far?
JP: Telarc has been terrific. I think the next CD, Let There Be Love will be a new step up for us. The sound and feeling of the record really communicate the title and I don't know if we could have made this record anywhere but Telarc because of their live recording process. I think you get the studio feeling right from the CD.
T: On Kisses in the Rain, you noted that you wanted to get a "live" feel to the recording, Would you elaborate on that a little?
JP: We had been playing a lot of the material you hear on Kisses... on the road for years and never got to record them. So in the studio for a lot of those songs, we just counted off the tempos and played like we were in concert. We even programmed what songs were next as if we were playing live, pacing the session like a concert i.e. jump number, swinger, flag waver, ballad, swinger, instrumental, list song, etc.
T: Kisses in the Rain includes a nice mix of original compositions and timeless standards. What is your thought process in selecting material for a recording? And I guess connected to this question is What attracts you to a particular tune?
JP: With all the material we select, I guess I look for a lyric that will connect to a listener. The same thing with writing a song. the combination of lyric and melody is so important and we take our time in finding (and writing) material that will be special.
JT: You just released a recording with Rosemary Clooney called "Brazil". How did that collaboration come about?
JP: I have worked with Rosie over the past ten years as a sideman, usually subbing for my dad at the Rainbow and Stars in New York City, and we developed a relationship that turned into my singing with her on the Do You Miss New York? CD of hers and later on this new one. She is a true pro and sitting next to her and watching her work is one of the true highlights of my professional life.
T: In listening to your playing and vocals on "Brazil" it seems that you have a natural affinity for the bossa nova. I recall on your Beatles CD that "Here Comes The Sun" was done as a bossa nova arrangement as was S'Wonderful from "All of Me" What are some of the qualities that attract you to Brazilin music and is an album of Brazilian music something you wanted to do for a long time?
JP: The CD Amoroso by Joao Gilberto was a major inspiration to me. It inspired my The River is Blue and the songs you mentioned. I love the energy of the Bossa Nova and I have loved playing in Brazil, where we have enjoyed a great amount of success. They have truly embraced our "swing" sound and we've had a lot of fun playing in Rio and Sao Paolo. I don't know if I am ready to make an entire CD of Brazilian music, but it certainly is beautiful, genuine and heartfelt.
T: What are the differences in playing bossa nova as opposed to say bop or swing? Do you structure your solos differently?
JP: I think there is no difference. The time is what you always have to be aware of. I feel when you stay on top of the beat you can play any kind of music.
T: When I think of Brazilian music on guitar, Charlie Byrd is one of the first players to pop into my head. Did he have any influence on your guitar work as it relates to Brazilian music?
JP: Not as much as the Getz/Gilberto record and the Jobim records and Amoroso
J: You mentioned earlier that a new Telarc CD is in the works. Can you share some details with us?
JP: The idea of the new CD was to create a love mood as opposed to a torch or love lost kind of CD.
T: When is it scheduled to be released?
JP: It will be released in November but with an eye towards Valentine's Day. We made this CD to accompany a tour we are doing at the start of next year with Maureen McGovern that will take us through April. You have already posted a lot of those dates and there are more to come. If we did not make the record now, we would not have gotten into the studio until next May and that, for me, would have been too long a wait between CD's.
T: Sounds great. I'm sure the readers out there, like myself, will eagerly anticipate its release. Thanks again for your time, John and best wishes for your continued success.
JP Thank You!
Interview With John Pizzarelli (By Bill Pandozzi, 1999)
Bill Pandozzi: Hello, this is Bill Pandozzi, host of All That Jazz<. We're at Foxwoods Casino and I'm talking with a prime leader in the revival of the Great American Songbook, the brilliant young jazz guitarist and singer who brings new spirit to these songs, John Pizzarelli. John, it's a pleasure to meet you and thanks for sharing some time with us.
John Pizzarelli: It's my pleasure.
BP: I heard you just signed a contract with Foxwoods. How long is that for?
JP: Oh, I think we've signed on to do a number of shows over the next two years.
BP: Our signal gets out to all of southeastern New England and from the calls I get on the radio show, you have quite a following in this local area. And you have a musical family with your dad, of course, Bucky Pizzarelli and your brother Martin on bass. How deep does the musical family go back? I read on an album that you had a couple of Uncles who inspired you as a kid.
JP: Yeah, my father's uncles Pete and Bobby Dominic taught him how to play the guitar. Peter was the oldest brother, I think of about six or seven children in that family. He stayed in New Jersey and just played club dates in the area and sort of supported the family. He worked during the day at a regular job and then played banjo and guitar on the weekends, but his youngest brother, Bobby Dominic, he made go out into the world and play with the bands. He played with Bob Chester and Clyde McClure and Buddy Rogers and he went all over the place. When Bobby Dominic would come off the road near Paterson, New Jersey, where my dad lived, he would show my dad a couple of new chords and they would all get together and play. So when it was my turn to learn at about seven years old, they sent me to my Uncle Bobby. I went and took banjo lessons from him and learned when I was young. So it's about three generations of guitar players.
BP: I can understand the musical background, but who got you inspired to sing.
JP: Well, the reason I started doing what I was doing was because I heard the Nat King Cole Trio. My father said, "go get those records." It was about 1980. So I bought all the Nat King Cole records I could find because I loved the sound of the group and I loved the material that they were singing because that material was all about jazz, and about having fun and also swinging.
BP: It shows on the CD that I have, Dear Mr. Cole. I understand you have a follow up to that one coming out.
JP: Yeah, the new one out now is called P.S. Mr. Cole which features Ray Kennedy on piano, my brother Martin on bass and it's just more of the Nat King Cole material. It's only been out a couple of weeks. We have another one coming out next February on the Telarc label called Kisses in the Rain and it's the same group and a lot more great standards.
BP: There's a couple of song I like that you've done and you wrote these songs: Headed Out to Vera's.
JP: Yeah, I'm gonna do that tonight. Vera's gonna be here.
BP: That's your Aunt?
JP: That's my Aunt. My father's sister.
BP: And I'm Your Guy and Be My Baby Tonight. These are songs that you wrote. Any inspiration on writing these particular songs?
JP: Sometimes it's finding a groove for a tune. Like Be My Baby Tonight. We just wanted to find an In a Mellow Tone groove. And on Headed Out to Vera's we wanted a blues song, based on blues changes so I wrote a song about my Aunt Vera with my buddy Grover Kemble. And I'm your guy is like an old rhythm tune, similar to a lot of the old Nat King Cole songs.
BP: When you sing those types of songs, I can't stop playing them.
JP: Well thanks.
BP: I also noticed David Frishberg songs. Those fit you to a "T" like Zoot Walked In. He was a friend of yours?
JP: Oh yeah, my dad and Zoot Sims worked together many times in New York City at a lot of different clubs and also with Benny Goodman. Actually, the day after Christmas was always Zoot Sims day in our house because he only lived about 20 minutes away. He'd come over, eat food and play my sister's band clarinet after dinner.
BP: On one of your latest albums, Our Love is Here to Stay, you sing Johnny Mercer's song Dream. I love that song and the way you do it is like nobody else.
JP: Well, it's a great song and I did a whole Broadway show that I was part of called Dream with Margaret Whiting. So when we made Our Love is Here to Stay we included that song as a tribute to Johnny Mercer because we had sung all of his songs in that show. And that's why when you hear our record of it there's a little tribute that we wrote to Johnny Mercer.
BP: Right, it's almost like a vocalese type of thing in the background.
BP: You toured with Sinatra I understand. Give me some input on how you felt about that, especially the first time when you actually worked with the man.
JP: We opened for him in five cities in Germany and we also did about twelve concerts in the United States opening for Frank Sinatra. It was a great feeling to be around a building he's in because the whole molecular structure of the building changes when he enters the room. Everybody'd be having fun and running around. You'd see guys talking and having a cigarette and waiting for the gig to begin. And the second Sinatra showed up in the place it all changed. In Germany, we played for 10,000 people in one venue and it's amazing the electricity that's in a place, an outdoor venue, to see all those people coming to hear Frank Sinatra who don't even speak English.
BP: Is it true he took one look at you, and he said, "we gotta feed this guy."
JP: Yeah, he said to me, "eat something, you look bad." It gave me something to say.
BP: John, it's been a pleasure talking to you. I really appreciate the time you spent with us. We're looking forward to seeing you on many more occasions here at Foxwoods.
JP: My pleasure and hello to all my friends in southeast New England.
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