Musical Pizzarelli delights with more than comedy
John Pizzarelli presents a delightful dilemma with his music.
Just when a lister is becoming convinced he likes the comedian-showman Pizzarelli better than the guitarist-singer form of the man, Pizzarelli goes ahead and does something really musical.
At the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side Friday, Pizzarelli opened two shows with a set that was full of great music, but also jammed with funny stories about his father, long-time jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, working with Paul McCartney and his recording history.
The music tended to be of the extremely well-known variety -- songs such as "You Make Me Feel So Young" and "How About You." Such material can be the dangerous fuel that propels dull concerts, but Pizzarelli plays with such zest, speed and skiil, he makes sure the show is motoring.
The best aspect of his playing is his ability to blend songs that are far removed from each other. For instance. he offered a merger of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" by the Allman Brothers and Montgomery's classic "4 on 6" but only after setting up the number with the line: "I know what you're thinking: If only he would combine some Wes Montgomery and the Allman Brothers."
He also did the same combining to Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder" and The Beatles' "I Feel Fine".
Pizzarelli even took two dissimilar Duke Elliington tunes, "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and created a quirky mix dominated by the rhythm of the former.
On all of those pieces, his playing seemed to get quicker and quicker, so by the time he reached the official close of the set - not counting the encore of "Paper Moon" - he was flying over "In a Mello Tone."
Backing him were pianist Larry Fuller, drummer Tony Tedesco and his brother, bassist Martin Pizzarelli.
But you see what happens? All this talk about his music ignores his skill with comic banter. His stories about working with Paul McCartney were full of appropriate Beatle-like voices and lines about the thrill of working "with a member of Wings". He talked about his father being on "every major hit between 1955 and 1978" and offered familiar guitar licks to illustrate it.
He also colored those stories with a growly impersonation of his jazz-star dad asking important questions like, "So, we gonna eat now?"
Pizzarelli puts on a show that gets better and better, musically and otherwise.