© Atael Weissman

It’s getting to be an old refrain at this point, but rummaging around my music library for the Crossover top 5 list yielded yet another artist that I had somewhat cordoned off from my playlist excursions. Strangely enough it’s another “John” too. It’s weird serendipity, but I’ve been on a bit of a John/Johnny/Jonny run of late with Blu, Mathis and now Mr. Pizzarelli … wild. My JP oversight is particularly strange as I caught him at One World here in Austin earlier this year and came away from his outstanding performance a big fan.

The Alfalfa reference? Well, John Pizzarelli has a very distinctive vocal style that people tend to love or hate … he even jokes about it in his act recalling an early review from the New Yorker (I believe) that suggested he sounds like “a cross between Chet Baker and Alfalfa”. I come down clearly on the plus side though, finding Pizzarelli’s vocals somewhat refreshing in the wash of polished standards singers that abound the genre.

In a way, John’s vocal stylings are tethered to his outstanding jazz guitar play — often intertwining with supremely delivered scat/guitar  sequences … at once reflecting off each other and becoming additive to attain the rare state of “greater than the sum”. 

JP’s creative tempos and arrangements are fun and different — often taking classic standards in a completely unexpected direction … at one point during the show he set up a song by saying he “ruined it” and that it would not be what we expected! I don’t recall the number now (think it might’ve been “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”) but I didn’t hear any ruination the whole evening.

John was all over the map (in a good way) with his song selection from the American song book and original material … but my favorite slice of Pizzarelli’s catalog are his renditions of Nat King Cole’s trio classics.

JP interprets dozens of Nat’s numbers in two of his best albums Dear Mr. Cole, and P.S. Mr. Cole

© David Bazemore (with permission)

© Nich Anderson

… Pizzarelli’s quartet (with brother Martin on bass, Tony Tedesco on drums and the jazz piano super-freak Larry Fuller) seems built for Cole as they unfold lilting ballads like “September Song” and “Smile” and hammer you with a show stopping instrumental “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the quickest tempo version of  “I’m an Errand Boy For Rhythm” you’ll ever hear!

Not far behind the Nat Cole material in John’s catalog are his Bossa Nova efforts. Pizzarelli’s intertwined smooth jazz guitar and unique vocal style lays perfect for the classic Gilberto/Jobim style. This great alignment is displayed in both JP’s Bossa Nova album as well as in Brazil — an album he recorded with Rosemary Clooney in 2000.

“One Note Samba”, “Facinatin’ Rhythm”, “Desfinado (Off Key)” … all the expected numbers are presented on Pizzarelli’s Bossa Nova with an excellent musical accompaniment that compliments his vocal/guitar weave nicely.

Brazil blends Rose Clooney’s signature vocal stylings into the mix. John lends beautiful “jazza-nova” guitar to each of the tracks and performs vocals on several numbers. His “Dindi” (I have a weak spot for this song) is rendered straight up in classic fashion and fabulous — both vocals and instrumentals. This is Rose late in her career, but she still has “it” on this album and does a beautiful job throughout — especially on duet versions of “Waters of March”  with Pizzarelli and “Boy from Ipanema” with Diana Krall (fore shadowing Diana’s to come Quiet Nights release). This album is a really fun “get” for Clooney fans in a samba mood … and John Pizzarelli complements the vocals and music in fine fashion. Get in the mood and get Brazil!