JOHN PIZZARELLI, the world-renowned guitarist and singer, was hailed by the Boston Globe for “reinvigorating the Great American Songbook and re-popularizing jazz.” The Toronto Star pegged him as “the genial genius of the guitar.” And the Seattle Times saluted him as “a rare entertainer of the old school.”
Established as one of the prime contemporary interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli has expanded that repertoire by including the music of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and Lennon-McCartney. His themed shows, often performed with his wife Jessica Molaskey, suggest there is no limit to Pizzarelli’s imagination or talent.
“The ability to infuse pop and jazz with a Chekhovian wisdom about life’s ups and downs is the special gift of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, long-married musical partners whose work gets deeper each year,” The New York Times raved about the show “Grownup Songs” at New York’s Café Carlyle.
The next step was introducing the solo work of Paul McCartney to his audience through his 2015 release on Concord Records, Midnight McCartney, and on stages around the world. The challenge, Pizzarelli says, is lining up the lesser-known McCartney songs alongside the works of Gershwin, Berlin, and Rodgers.
“It’s not out of the realm to say, ‘Here are some excellent songs. What you just enjoyed and maybe thought was Johnny Mercer, is really Paul McCartney.’ I think they can all stand next to each other.”
Pizzarelli started playing guitar at age six, following in the tradition of his father. He turned to jazz in his late teens after playing in rock bands, and he received an education playing with his father Bucky Pizzarelli and many jazz greats who would influence his work: Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, and Slam Stewart, among others.
His solo recording career started in 1990 with My Blue Heaven on Chesky Records. He played clubs and concert halls on the jazz circuit, opening for such greats as Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, and Rosemary Clooney. In 1993, he was honored to open for Frank Sinatra’s international tour and then joined in the celebration for his 80th birthday at Carnegie Hall, bringing down the house singing “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do” with his father accompanying him.
Pizzarelli’s latest album, Midnight Mc- Cartney, has its origins in McCartney’s Grammy-winning 2012 album, Kisses on the Bottom. Pizzarelli played guitar on ten of the album’s 14 tracks and backed Sir Paul at an iTunes concert at Capitol Records Studios, the Grammy Awards, and the Recording Academy’s annual MusiCares Person of the Year Gala.
Fifteen months after those gigs, McCartney wrote to Pizzarelli to consider recording some of his lesser-known songs in a jazz style.
“It’s a take on songs within a style we’re comfortable with,” Pizzarelli says. “There’s a lot of thought given to them and they’re fun to play and challenging. We’ve always been McCartney fans and I feel that the audience we play for now grew up with Paul McCartney as well. These songs are as familiar as ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’.”
In addition to being a bandleader and solo performer, John has been a special guest on recordings for major pop names such as James Taylor, Natalie Cole, Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Wopat, Rickie Lee Jones, and Dave Van Ronk, as well as leading jazz artists like Rosemary Clooney, Ruby Braff, Johnny Frigo, Buddy DeFranco, Harry Allen, and, of course, Bucky Pizzarelli. He was featured opposite Donna Summer, Jon Secada, and Roberta Flack on the Grammy-winning CD Songs from the Neighborhood: The Music of Mr. Rogers in 2005.
A radio personality who got his start in the medium in 1984, Pizzarelli is co-host, alongside Jessica Molaskey, of Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli. Heard on more than 40 radio stations, the syndicated radio show brings warmth, humor, and that long-lost “live” feel back to radio. The show takes place in their “deluxe living room high atop Lexington Avenue,” and the conversations are relaxed, candid, and off-the-cuff, as is the music. The show is also available globally as a podcast at johnpizzarelli.com and via iTunes.
John has performed on the country’s most popular national television shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Late Show with David Letterman, Conan, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Tony Danza Show, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In 1997, Pizzarelli made his Broadway debut in the musical Dream, a revue of Johnny Mercer songs. He led a 40-member live orchestra at Radio City Music Hall in Sinatra: His Voice, His World, His Way in 2003. His instructional DVD Exploring Jazz Guitar – filled with demonstrations, lessons, and anecdotes – is available from Hal Leonard. Pizzarelli received the 2009 Ella Fitzgerald Award from the Montreal International Jazz Festival, joining a select group of past winners including Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, and Harry Connick, Jr.
Pizzarelli performs annual engagements at the Café Carlyle with Jessica Molaskey and at Birdland with his jazz combo. He continues to tour throughout the United States, Europe, South America, and Japan, performing classic pop, jazz, and swing, while setting the standard for stylish modern jazz.