On stage last weekend at the Fox, John Pizzarelli said he's no saloon singer. But he's hardly a lounge lizard either. His natural habitat is the supper club and the concert hall. Leading his jazz quartet in a UApresents concert, the 52-year-old New York-based singer and guitarist showed off his refined and sophisticated tendencies on standards, ballads and thoughtful covers from the rock repertoire. Dressed in a natty suit and exercising his clear voice, Pizzarelli was a snazzy host.
Pizzarelli, who noted that this was his first concert in Tucson, also told a few stories about his famous father Bucky Pizzarelli, the 87-year-old guitarist and journeyman session player. Proving his reputation as a raconteur, the younger Pizzarelli also shared a tale or two about playing with Rosemary Clooney and Paul McCartney.
Like his father, Pizzarelli played a hollow-bodied seven-string guitar, with the extra string allowing him to play bass lines along with his melodies. He displayed a neat, concise playing style throughout the concert, and even when he cut loose with stinging solos on several tunes - he was plain smoking on "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "In a Mellow Tone" - his playing was still restrained. The guy has chops and a sense of taste.
The band swung mightily, thanks to brother Martin Pizzarelli on double bass, drummer Tony Tedesco and especially pianist Larry Fuller, who seemed to essay the entire history of jazz piano in his propulsive playing, from the styles of Fats Waller and Art Tatum to Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Peterson and Errol Garner.
Mindful to give credit where it was due, Pizzarelli often mentioned the songwriters and composers who created the numbers he played, from Jerome Kern to Richard Rodgers to Harold Arlen. At the same time, he showed his affection for the musical mash-up. He elided Tom Waits' "Drunk on the Moon" with Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," and the seams between tunes were nearly imperceptible.
Perhaps the evening's finest moment came during a performance of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," a jazz-based Allman Brothers Band tune, framed by an arrangement of Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six." The concert reached toward the sublime when Pizzarelli and Fuller played the dual Duane Allman-Dickey Betts leads together.