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Paul McCartney had the perfect idea for a new album—ask John Pizzarelli to make it. Pizzarelli’s latest album, Midnight McCartney, pays tribute to Sir Paul McCartney and has its origins in McCartney’s Grammy-winning 2012 album, Kisses on the Bottom. Pizzarelli played his guitar on ten of the album’s fourteen tracks and even backed Sir Paul at the Grammy Awards and at several other prestigious concerts. After those gigs, McCartney wrote to Pizzarelli to consider recording some of his lesser-known songs in a jazz style. “I got an idea in my head,” McCartney noted. “It might be interesting for you and Bucky to do a few of my songs that are lesser known than some of the others. I realize this may be a little immodest, if not pushy.”
“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.’”
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. A next step was introducing the solo work of Paul McCartney to his audience through his September 18, 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 hero and foundation over the last twenty-five years has been Nat “King” Cole, to whom he has devoted two albums, Dear Mr. Cole and P.S. Mr. Cole. Since 2013, Pizzarelli and pianist Ramsey Lewis have toured a Cole tribute show. “His sound was singular and inspired,” Pizzarelli says. “I’ve always said we’re an extension, a 21st-century version of what that group was.”
His 2008 recording, the Grammy Award-nominated With a Song in My Heart, celebrates the music of composer Richard Rodgers and includes swinging Rodgers & Hart standards like “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Mountain Greenery” and “Johnny One Note” and theater songs from South Pacific and The King and I.
The singer-guitarist’s first-ever Duke Ellington recording, Rockin’ in Rhythm, was released in February 2010. For the dozen tracks, Pizzarelli took the tack of Ellington, noticeably displaying the strengths of the musicians in the band. In addition to a cut for solo guitar, four songs highlight the quartet (with pianist Larry Fuller, bassist Martin Pizzarelli and drummer Tony Tedesco) and seven include the Swing Seven horns with arrangements by Don Sebesky.
Pizzarelli married songs from great pop songwriters of his own generation with traditional jazz arrangements and melodies. Double Exposure, released in 2012, united the Beatles and Lee Morgan, Tom Waits with Billy Strayhorn and the Allman Brothers Band with the style of Wes Montgomery.
As he told the Wall Street Journal, “I asked myself a couple of questions: ‘How can we take the style we do and communicate it to people who grew up on Gershwin and people who grew up on the Beatles? How do we communicate jazz to the non-jazz listeners?’”
The Guardian in the U.K. was among the many publications to praise the album: “The arrangements are sharp and witty, the singing deceptively easygoing, and the guitar playing just terrific. It’s a delight.”
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 the 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 Award-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 forty 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.
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.