John Pizzarelli: A Tribute to Duke Ellington
AAJ: You mentioned Don Sebesky, who worked as the arranger for the album. You've worked with Don for a number of years now, what's it like working with Don behind the scenes when you bring him on board for a project like Rockin' in Rhythm?
JP: I've worked with Don now since '93 and we did our first record together in '96. The last two projects in particular were tremendously rewarding. He's a remarkably musical arranger and he's very creative. These are things that you of course want in an arranger, but he's also such a good friend of mine that we almost talk ahead of each other. We work so fast, it's hilarious.
It's so much fun working with a guy like Don, who knows our band as well as he does. I trust him so much, we think a lot a like and we just have a lot of fun working together. I wish the records would take longer to make. We get these projects done in a matter days, maybe a few weeks, and I wish they lasted six months we have so much fun together.
AAJ: You mentioned earlier your solo version of "Just Squeeze Me," which has a very improvised feel to it. Did you just sit down in the studio and run the tape or did you prepare parts, or all, of the arrangement beforehand?
JP: I knew I wanted one extra tune on the record and so I decided to do a guitar solo. I had recorded that tune before on a record with Ray Brown called Some of My Best Friends are ... Guitarists (Telarc, 2002). I played it in my apartment a couple of times and I got a rough idea of what I wanted to do with it. Then we ended up doing maybe two or three takes and that was it.
There was one edit on the track at the very end where I go [sings ending riff to tune] ... I played it so cleanly on the first take that I decided to edit it into the final take and use it there. I'm giving away my secrets, but everybody does this stuff so there's no real secret [laughs].
That's a complete take on the record, minus the ending. Sometimes that's a bit of a fault of mine, that I like the way songs sound when I just sit down and play them all the way through. There's something that gets captured in those moments that I love to have on my records.
AAJ: It seems that solo jazz guitar playing seems to be sort of a lost art these days. In the past players like Lenny Breau, Ted Greene, Joe Pass, and of course your father, all released full-length albums of solo guitar. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like solo guitar isn't being passed down to the next generation of players in the same way that it has been in the past.
JP: I do think that there's an emphasis on single-note playing these days, where the harmonic approach to the guitar sort of gets lost. I also think that the industry is such that you don't really get that opportunity anymore. My father has released several wonderful solo records, and of course like you mentioned, guys like Joe Pass and George Van Eps did the same thing.
I think it's hard to put together a whole record of solo guitar. Back when these guys were recording an album was 40 minutes long, which is hard enough to fill with solid, solo-guitar playing. Nowadays, labels want 60, or even 80, minutes of music, which is almost twice as much as before. Forty minutes could be doable, but 60 or 80 minutes of making music by yourself is not an easy thing to do.
On that note, I've heard Russell Malone play solo and he's just a magnificent solo guitarist, as well as Howard Alden and other guys in that vein. So there are guys doing the solo guitar thing, but it tends to be more of a featured tune or two, rather than a full album like the older players did.
AAJ: There seems to be a weird thing that happens in the jazz world when someone like you reaches the level of success that you've achieved. There's often a bit of a backlash from certain sections of the jazz community to artists like yourself, Diana Krall and Norah Jones just to name a few, that have achieved commercial success playing jazz. Have you ever experienced that pushback from the jazz community, from people who might think that your music isn't "jazz" because it's not cutting edge, or experimental enough for their tastes?
JP: Well I've never been cutting-edge jazz anyway, but I do think that I've been really surprised and pleased with the support I've gotten from the jazz community. It's been quite nice. The guys that are out there working, who we run into in airports, we all know how hard we're all working and we're supportive of each other.
My thing is to play standards and to come up with new and different arrangements of those great tunes. I'm lucky that I've been successful at it, and I think that the jazz community is a lot tighter than people may think it is, and they like to see success. To see Diana Krall or Harry Connick sell millions of records, that's a great thing for jazz. It shows that there's a larger community of listeners out there who dig our music. I think that's great.