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Jazz: John Pizzarelli swings into Salt Lake City

Published February 17, 2014 8:37 am

Jazz • Guitarist's style is grounded in musical and family tradition.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Music and family are the same thing for the Pizzarellis.

Jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli comes to Salt Lake City next weekend with his quartet, which includes brother Martin on bass. John and Martin are sons of the great Bucky Pizzarelli, also known for his legendary guitar playing on similar repertoire.

When asked to what extent home life included music, Bucky responded with a chuckle: "That's what the whole thing is, it's all music. If you can't play, you can't get in the house."

John Pizzarelli said he learned the tenor banjo and played along on Sundays with songs such as "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Carolina in the Morning." When he was about 11 or 12, he picked up a guitar (they were lying all over the house) and started learning things off records.

Bucky Pizzarelli recalled about his son, "He had a rock band. Every time he'd play with his rock band, the cops would show up, because they were so loud. And then John copied some solo of the record, and I said,'If you can do that, you can copy a Django Reinhardt solo, it's so much more worthwhile.' And so that's what he did. And after he learned that, he started playing our kind of music."

Bucky himself learned to play guitar from his uncles — his mother's two brothers. "On Sundays during the Depression, we would always get together and have a big dinner. And then the guitars would come out and they played practically the whole Sunday afternoon."

The younger uncle, he said, played with a lot of big bands, including Benny Goodman's. "He was forever coming off the road looking like a million dollars. He was making 60 bucks a week in those days, during the Depression. And he would show me all these fancy things that he learned on the road."

John Pizzarelli describes his style as "the swing jazz school of guitar playing." And while he brings his own personality and style to the Great American Songbook, it remains solidly grounded in tradition. Much of his repertoire still hails from classic American jazz, although his latest album, "Double Exposure" (2012), blends styles and eras. In a promotional video on his website, Pizzarelli said the album sounds a lot like his house did growing up: pop music from the '60s, '70s and '80s, many from records that his sister and her friends brought over, mixed with '50s-era jazz. Take, for example, the Beatles' hit "I Feel Fine," set to Morgan Lee's soul/funk/boogaloo "Sidewinder." It's an unconventional pairing, but it works well, and Pizzarelli pulls it off with style.

For his Salt Lake City concert, Pizzarelli said he'll probably draw heavily from "Double Exposure," but mix it with a variety of other material. And while he still performs with his father (they were playing together in Palm Beach, Fla., at the time of this interview), he will be with his brother and the rest of the quartet for this performance.

Keeping music in the family is a tradition that John Pizzarelli continues with his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey. The couple perform together when they're able — most notably at a four-week engagement at the Café Carlyle every November — and now their daughter, Madeleine, is getting in on the action.

"My wife's doing a Joni Mitchell concert — right before I go to Salt Lake City — at the Allen Room at Lincoln Center," Pizzarelli said. "I'm going to be in the band, and so is our daughter. She's 16, and she plays guitar and sings, and she's going to be in the show. It's her first time; we're going to make her one of the Von Trapps." —


John Pizzarelli and his quartet play a concert of swing jazz.

When • Saturday, Feb. 22, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $29.50 general public, $10 students (ID required); http://www.arttix.org, 801-355-ARTS (2787)