World-renowned guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his debut recording and a new album, “Stage & Screen,” in concert at the Musical Instrument Museum on Thursday, May 11.
A collection of fresh new takes on Broadway and Hollywood classics, “Stage & Screen” will be released the day of the concert, so attendees will have the chance to hear it live for the first time.
Pizzarelli will be joined in concert by the musicians from the album, bassist Mike Karn and pianist Isaiah J. Thompson.
The concert will take place at 7 p.m., with ticket prices ranging from $34 to $55. For more information, call 480-478-6000 or visit mim.org/events. The performance is part of an album release tour that also includes stops across the country.
Pizzarelli has dedicated many of his albums to the great songwriters and performers who have helped to establish the Great American Songbook and the pop music canon: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Richard Rodgers and Duke Ellington, to name a few. With “Stage & Screen,” Pizzarelli and his remarkable new trio cast a wider net to explore other sources for the most immortal songs of the past century: the Broadway stage and the silver screen.
“Stage & Screen” finds inspiration in classic songs from Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. The cleverly chosen repertoire spans nearly nine decades, starting with a pair of songs from the 1925 musical “No, No, Nanette” (“I Want To Be Happy” and “Tea For Two”) and leading into the 21st century with “I Love Betsy” from Jason Robert Brown’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” – a stage musical based on the 1992 film.
In between, there are pieces by such iconic songwriters and composers as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Leonard Bernstein, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, and songs immortalized in cinema favorites like “Casablanca.”
The recording also celebrates the 40th anniversary of Pizzarelli’s 1983 debut recording, “I’m Hip (Please Don’t Tell My Father).” Over the ensuing four decades he’s become one of the most acclaimed interpreters of classic and modern song and an influential advocate for the continuing evolution of the standards songbook. His albums have delved into that rich pool of song from a variety of angles, “Stage & Screen”providing an inviting new twist.
“In thinking about some of the songs that I really love to play, it struck me how many of them come from either a Broadway show or from a movie,” Pizzarelli explained. “An idea like Stage & Screen frees me to explore a wide range of songwriters and eras, and it continues to offer a wealth of new possibilities.”
He’s joined for the occasion by his new trio featuring bassist Mike Karn and pianist Isaiah J. Thompson, two tremendous talents with whom Pizzarelli quickly discovered a scintillating chemistry, even with a two-year disruption to their touring schedule.
While Karn has been working with Pizzarelli for the last seven years, Thompson joined the trio only three years ago, in late December 2019. A few months later, his tenure was interrupted by the pandemic, only for the band to pick up again in August 2021. “Stage & Screen”was recorded a few short months later, but the band sounds like it’s logged years on the road.
“This is a great little group, and I can go to a lot of different places with Mike and Isaiah,” Pizzarelli said.
“Stage & Screen”opens with a sparkling take on “Too Close for Comfort,” a song from the 1956 musical “Mr. Wonderful.” Pizzarelli became reacquainted with the tune while watching video of his father, the late guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli, perform it with saxophonist Zoot Sims.
Jason Robert Brown gave his blessing for Pizzarelli to edit “I Love Betsy” into a concise three-verse list song, while he restored the seldom-sung verse to “As Time Goes By,” indelibly associated with “Casablanca.” For Pizzarelli, the song also evokes a memory of performing it at the Algonquin Hotel in 1991 before a crowd that included Tony Bennett – from whose recording he had learned that verse in the first place.
“He looked at me and nodded his head like, ‘Keep going, kid,’” Pizzarelli recalled.
“I Want To Be Happy” is performed as a blazing instrumental showcasing Pizzarelli’s agile seven-string prowess, while several pieces from the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!”are compiled into a stunning suite. “Tea For Two” is atypically rendered as a gentle ballad, inspired by Blossom Dearie’s memorable version. The urgent “Just in Time” is drawn from 1956’s “Bells Are Ringing,” the haunting “Some Other Time” – a solo guitar spotlight for Pizzarelli – from Bernstein’s “On the Town.”
Much of the album’s repertoire was inspired by Pizzarelli’s weekly Thursday night livestream concerts on Facebook, including the unique bossa nova arrangement of “Where or When,” from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical “Babes in Toyland.”
One of the most often-requested songs in that series was “Time After Time,” which Frank Sinatra introduced in the 1947 MGM film “It Happened in Brooklyn.” The sprightly “You’re All the World to Me” was penned for the 1951 movie musical “Royal Wedding,” starring Fred Astaire. The set closes with “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” a Pizzarelli favorite from the little-known Kander and Ebb musical “70, Girls, 70.”
“The idea of taking these songs out of the context of their shows or movies was interesting to me,” Pizzarelli said. “With a new arrangement you can change the meaning of a song. That’s what we've been doing all of our lives as jazz musicians – trying to figure out how to make these classic songs different, whether it’s a Songbook standard or a Beatles hit. It’s always a lot of fun.”
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