Recreating the romantic era of 1930s New York with a sincerity that outshines nostalgia, John Pizzarelli is one of today's most renowned interpreters of the Great American Songbook. The son of Bucky Pizzarelli, he has forged a successful career as a singer and guitar player. As a sideman, this New Jersey native has often been invited to collaborate with big names in the business, from George Shearing, to Rosemary Clooney to Natalie Cole. He has been a Festival favourite ever since his first appearance in 1992.
John Pizzarelli was born in Paterson, New Jersey, on April 6, 1960. Walking in the footsteps of his father, swing guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, he picked up the guitar at age six and soon opened his ears to jazz music.
After having collaborated with Pizzarelli senior, the crooner-guitarist launched a solo career in the early 1980s. His first record, I'm Hip - Please Don't Tell My Father (1983), was recorded with help from daddy Bucky's trio. Other recordings followed throughout the decade. One his better efforts, My Blue Heaven (1990) saw the emerging musician refining the swing-based formula that would soon make him very popular.
Memorable Jazz Fest debut
Pizzarelli's career skyrocketed in 1992. Making his Festival International de Jazz de Montréal debut, he took over Club Soda during the whole lenght of the event. It was the beginning of a lasting love story with Montréal jazz fans.
In 1993, the John Pizzarelli Trio had the pleasure and privilege to open some dates on Frank Sinatra's international tour. They eventually made an appearance at Carnegie Hall for a special concert celebrating Old Blue Eyes' 80th birthday.
The following year was marked by the released of Dear Mr. Cole, a tribute album to the late great Nat King Cole - one of Pizzarelli's main sources of inspiration. This time around, Mister P. was supported by Benny Green on piano and Christian McBride on bass.
In 1996, appearing at the Festival for the fourth time, the artist made Théâtre Maisonneuve look like some 1940s swinging cabaret. On this occasion, he was assisted by father Bucky on guitar and brother Martin on double bass, as well as a 12-piece brass band.
The next year, Pizzarelli found himself under the Broadway spotlights after landing a part in Dream, a musical dedicated to prolific composer Johnny Mercer. Returning to the studio in 1998, the musician recorded Meets the Beatles, a collection of swinged-up numbers culled from the Lennon-McCartney songbook - to which he added a token Harrison number. The Festival had the privilege to hear this material in a live setting that summer.
Homages and sundries
1999 saw the release of P.S. Mr. Cole, a sequel to the Nat King Cole homage Pizzarelli had recorded five years earlier. Live at Birdland (2003) marked the 10th anniversary of the John Pizzarelli Trio. With Bossa Nova (2004), which notably included a couple of Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions, the musician temporarily turned his back on swing. For Dear Mr. Sinatra (2006), a tribute to another famous New Jersey-born singer, he was backed by the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra.
In 2009, Pizzarelli took part in the celebrations marking the Festival's 30th anniversary, which extended to a tour of several dates around La Belle Province. Sharing the bill with the singer-guitarist was singer-songwriter Coral Egan.
A sought-after musician, Pizzarelli has collaborated with a score of artists, from George Shearing to Natalie Cole, Rosemary Clooney and Johnny Frigo. With his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey, he also hosts syndicated radio program Radio Deluxe, a listener-friendly, "good-old-timesy" weekly experience where one can hear excerpts from the Great American Songbook as well as the occasional live performance.
In 2012, he returned to the Festival with brand new album Double Exposure. In 2015, he paid tribute to Johnny Mercer with the release of the live album John Pizzarelli Salutes Johnny Mercer.