John Pizzarelli

From Stage to Seven-String
John Pizzarelli
John Pizzarelli: Jaci Berkopec.

The John Pizzarelli Trio is back on the road supporting its latest album, Stage and Screen. Joined by Isaiah J. Thompson on piano and Michael Karn on double bass, Pizzarelli is flying through tunes mostly associated with Broadway and the movies. We had the chance to dig in a bit with the jazz master.

What were you hoping to achieve with this collection of songs?
We had just come out of a Nat Cole record, so we tried to pick a couple of tunes that were outside of what we’d been doing – just sort of blow on some tunes. We started to play “Tea For Two” as a ballad because I’d heard it on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” during the pandemic, where Blossom Dearie sang it over one of the scenes. I thought, “I’ve got to try that!”

For my Thursday night shows on Facebook, I was doing “I Love Betsy” and “Time After Time,” and as I was heading into the studio I remembered that I’d always wanted to put together a suite of Oklahoma! songs. So, I wrote that down and said, “Hey guys, we’re doing a suite.”(laughs) When I looked at how I’d put a nice bow around it, I realized they were all popular Broadway songs or popular movie songs. I rounded it out with a few other things I hadn’t recorded, and I knew it would be a nice theme out on the road.

I was really pleased that the three of us made a record that represents what we do on the road, and we got it captured so early in our game together.

It’s a nice mix of well-known songs and some that are lesser-known, but the arrangements all sound fresh, even on the older songs.
It’s nice to have things people aren’t familiar with and they were all also in our wheelhouse, so it all works out well. I probably could’ve found a few more lesser-known songs, but that’s where I was at the time.

Are you doing more soloing on this record?
Yes, and I think it’s because it’s the first non-Nat King Cole kind of record in a while and it was nice to play tunes I hadn’t played before. It’s kind of just because of the way it fell into my lap. I’m glad people are noticing that. It was recorded well and I had a chance to play a little more.

Even though you and your dad, Bucky, are both great rhythm players, you’re also killer soloists.
Well, my single-note playing is a work in progress. It’s taken 40 years to get to this point, so it’s nice to be recognized for that (laughs). I’m happy with the way it came out on this record. Sometimes it works.

What was your primary guitar on the record?
I used the Moll I’ve had for about 15 years, with a Florentine cutaway and floating Kent Armstrong pickup. It’s a gorgeous little box. It’s been through the mill but it records so well, especially for rhythm playing.

Which amp did you use?
I recorded through a ZT Club. It’s got a 12″ speaker and it’s such a good little amplifier. Not too many highs and not too many lows. It’s really good in the studio. [Engineer] Bill Moss has this microphone that he can put right in the middle of where my guitar is so he can pick up the acoustic part and mix acoustic rhythm a little more to give more of an electric sound for soloing. I was particularly pleased with the rhythm sound on this – a little more acoustic, which was nice.

It also sounds great on the chord solos you played.
Thank you! I’m really pleased with that!

On another subject, during the pandemic you did a solo record of Pat Metheny songs. Any plans to do more like that?
This is the first time I’m saying it out loud, but I am thinking about going into a studio with a list of instrumentals. But the hard thing is Bucky recorded most of them, so I’ve got to listen to his version and think I’m going to play something better. So, it’s about trying to find the songs.

You know the Joe Pass story where he was playing – I think it was before an Oscar Peterson show – and said to himself, “How hard can it be to play a half hour of tunes? I played two songs and it was five after.” Well, with a guitar album, if I could get to 40 minutes, that would be amazing.

So I have thought about it. It’s just a matter of getting into the studio and making it happen.

This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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