John Pizzarelli: Songs for Stage and Screen, at the Carlyle

John Pizzarelli, supported by Isaiah J. Thompson, at Cafe Carlyle. Photo: David Andrako

“Ladies and gentlemen,” purrs suavely in the dark, “Café Carlyle is proud to present” (laughs) “after a two-year hiatus” (more laughter, as the lights come on on John Pizzarelli leaning forward and practically swallowing the mic on stage) “the John Pizzarelli Trio” (applause). The singer and his guitar burst into a rousing rendition of “Too Close for Comfort,” and he (and we) are back in business, listening to supreme New York jazz surrounded by those legendary Green murals draped over the box. of candies.

This lively but obscure Jerry Bock-Larry Holofcener-George Weiss showtune of the 1956 musical Mr. Wonderful– “a show about me, with Sammy Davis Jr.” – is a perfect launching pad for Pizzarelli’s new edition to the legendary Carlyle, and it was about time.

As is often the case, the oscillating melody turns out not to be a random selection; Pizzarelli’s passionate musicality – and he is perhaps the best at what he does – is enveloped in his skill as a folk storyteller, a word that won’t be in the dictionary but defines the artist. There’s a personal connection and story to go along with the song, centering on Zoot Sims, Benny Goodman and the venerable Bucky Pizzarelli. The latter is no longer in the house; he died of complications from COVID-19 last April, aged 94. His son mentions it several times, always with smiling eyes, throughout filming.

Pizzarelli then launches into “Rhode Island Belongs to You” by Schwartz and Dietz. Although he is first and foremost a guitarist, he makes the trek through the country of the song – built from a first chorus full of charm, a second jokey and a third stuffed with puns – exploiting each ounce of intricately crafted lyrics. “Pencils are from Pencil-vania”, indeed.

The act is called “Stage and Screen”, which is precisely what you get. Songs from musicals and movies, written by a disparate cast ranging from Rodgers and Youmans to Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown. The multi-talented troubadour, who always wears an invisible jester’s cap with bells, goes from song to song to the rhythm of his usual improvised commentary. Who else today can make an Adolphe Menjou joke and succeed?

He showcases his most unique talent with a solo instrumental rendition – just fingers on frets – of two emotionally linked songs. A somber and contemplative “This Nearly Was Mine” leads to an utterly illuminating “Send into the Clowns”. Every hue of Sondheim’s inner harmonies is magnified by Pizzarelli’s fingertips, culminating with the melody line only, played on a single string. The number ends with silence from the audience and a series of collective sighs, until applause erupts.

“It was fun and easy,” says the master of understatement.

He is accompanied by Isaiah J. Thompson on Steinway and Michael Karn on bass. The trio, accompanied by Pizzarelli’s scat vocals, which sometimes seem to diverge impossibly from the rhythms emanating from his guitar, work well together, each of them taking intriguing solo flights but always finding their way home.

For the obligatory but well-deserved reminder, Pizzarelli announces “I will play one last song by South Pacific, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, until it no longer applied. At that time, he sings his soft, powerful, self-accompanied “Carefully Taught”.

“If a jazz band goes down in the forest and there’s no one to pay for the cover…”, he thinks. Although in such a case, a brood of squirrels from Central Park would no doubt throng the clearing, offering a ransom in acorns to pay Pizzarelli’s bill.

John Pizzarelli: Stage and Screen opened April 27, 2022 at Café Carlyle and will run through May 7. Tickets and information: rosewoodhotels.com


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Grace D. Erickson