Some people live their entire lives in the shadows of other people. John Pizzarelli, by all accounts, should be one of those people. The son of big band guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli, John's choice to pursue jazz guitar himself could only lead to lifelong comparisons to his well respected and much loved father. And on top of that, John's choice to sing jazz standards here in the 90's brings about constant comparisons to his more famous contemporary, Harry Connick Jr.. Yet despite all that seems to be stacked against John Pizzarelli, his career keeps moving forward.
While not the virtuoso his father was, John swings impressively on the guitar, aggressively moving the up-tempo numbers and seductively swaying the ballads. And while John's voice is not as strong as Connick's, his Chet Baker-esque vocals pay intelligent homage to the essence of so many of the standards he performs. And while Connick has steadily moved away from jazz material over the past five years, Pizzarelli has been more than ready and able to step into the void as the "hip" young crooner who’s as popular with the kids as he is with their parents.
Pizzarelli's latest collection is entitled Our Love Is Here To Stay, and matches Pizzarelli with The Don Sebesky New York All-Star Big Band. Pizzarelli runs the band through a number of standards such as the title cut, "Kalamazoo," "Avalon," and "Dream," as well as a few originals. Pizzarelli's voice is in fine form throughout, light and thin, with an emphasis on flexibility. His guitar playing shines as well, taking the solo duties and more than keeping his own, which is made more impressive by the pressure of having his father guest on several songs on the guitar.
Pizzarelli's style is different than most of his contemporaries. Perhaps most essential to this difference is the fact that Pizzarelli plays guitar in addition to singing, as opposed to the masses of piano playing singers popular today. I believe this accounts, in large part, for John's unique approach to the music he plays. Growing up around guitars, Pizzarelli's vocals flow with the slow strumming of the ballads and intricately work themselves around the quick plucking sections of the burners. All in all, Pizzarelli seems more a throw back to the times of road houses and juke joints than another updated piano lounge singer.
Overall, Our Love Is Here To Stay is a nice collection of guitar driven (seems strange to use this phase to describe a vocal jazz album) interpretations of some great songs of days gone by. Pizzarelli's voice takes a little getting use to, but I'd definitely put him in a group with Jimmy Scott, Blossom Dearie, and Chet Baker...singers not blessed with the greatest voice, but who compensate with sheer emotionality and expressiveness. Pizzarelli's catch however, is that his forte is the upbeat toe-tapper, not the ballad. So if you like big band backed vocals, check out this disc. If you prefer the more intimate trio format, check out Pizzarelli's tribute to Nat King Cole, Dear Mr. Cole. Either way, check out Mr. Pizzarelli for yourself, and see if he emerges from the shadows.