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Pizzarelli wants to add new chapters to Great American Songbook

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
John Pizzarelli 
Credit: Miller, Wright & Associates
John Pizzarelli Credit: Miller, Wright & Associates

John Pizzarelli is one of the performers writing a new chapter to the Great American Songbook.

While new songs always can bring life to a jazz star's act, singer/guitarist Pizzarelli is comfortable exploring new ways of doing songs by Neil Young or Seals & Crofts.

“I think I have just gotten comfortable being a presenter of song,” says the son of guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. “People who come to see me have come to know what they will get.”

Pizzarelli will bring his show Friday to the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side, giving a jazz look to some pop hits, along with doing a range of other material.

While jazz performers always have found a great stock of material in the standards of composers from Cole Porter to Sammy Cahn, newer material now is finding its way into that collection of musical ammunition.

He has done the Allman Brothers' “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and blended John Lennon and Paul McCartney's “I Feel Fine” with Lee Morgan's “The Sidewinder.” He points out singer Kurt Elling doing an album of songs written by tenants of New York City's Brill Building, which has housed songwriters such as Burt Bacharach and Paul Simon.

“And then you have Tierney Sutton doing the works of Joni Mitchell, so people are always looking for a good song,” he says.

Pizzarelli, 52, like these other performers, always puts his own spin on such material. While exploring this realm of New Standards, he also sometimes takes his own look at material, such as Richard Rodgers' “You Must Be Carefully Taught.” He does that song with such a strong look at the anti-bias message in the lyrics, he jokes about one irked listener once referring to it as “that James Taylor song.”

Such is the individuality of Pizzarelli's work. While his show has the look of straight-ahead jazz, it is fresh in its presentation. He performs with pianist Larry Fuller, drummer Tony Tedesco and bassist Martin Pizzarelli, his brother. His show has grown steadily from that of a guitarist-who-sings show 20 years ago to one where he is an even blend of instrumentalist and singer.

“It feels great to be what you are and not worry,” he says about the development of his career.

He tells that story in his new memoir, “World on a String” (Wiley, $26.95), and also shares his thoughts on the weekly music-radio show, “Radio Deluxe,” heard in this area from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturdays on WJAS (1320 AM).

The best part of all his activities, he says, is performing live, where there is the most honest mix of his instrumental work, singing and song sensibility. On a record, he says, it is hard to work in guitar solos.

“In a studio, you are making a movie,” he says. “You are looking at song length, being concerned about airplay.”

Sometimes, the guitar work even gets lost. Some listeners complained, for instance, he didn't play guitar enough on his “Bossa Nova” album from 2004, he says.

But he suggests the problem was simply they couldn't see what they were hearing.

“Man, I was playing guitar on every cut,” he says. “Rhythm guitar, solos, everything.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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