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John Pizzarelli: A Tribute to Duke Ellington

By Published: March 15, 2010
AAJ: Jumping back to your playing, one of the things that makes your performances fun to watch, and listen to on record, is when you scat along to your guitar solos. How did you develop that technique and what made you decide to feature it as part of your live performances?

From left: Bucky, John and Martin Pizzarelli

JP: Like any other good 16-year old would do, I tried to copy George Benson

George Benson
George Benson
's record Masquerade [on Breezin' (Warner Brothers, 1976)]. I tried it on stage after a while and after my dad saw me do it he would always say, "Do that singing and playing thing again." So, it doesn't come from any major school of thought, it was just my dad telling me to do that singing and playing thing. I wish there was a better, more interesting answer. I think I might overdo it sometimes, but I enjoy doing it, especially on the up tempo tunes.

AAJ: Besides telling you to "Do that singing and playing thing," your father also got you into playing the seven-string guitar, for which he's famous for using. Do you always use the seven string when you perform or do you switch back and forth, especially when you're in a larger group setting?

JP: The seven string is my main instrument and it really comes out when I'm playing the intro to a tune like "Solitude." Over time I've learned when to use the low end and when to, as my brother Martin says, lay off my notes [laughs].

AAJ: Since you pretty much always play with a bassist do you have to watch how low you go on that seventh string to avoid getting things muddied up with the bassist?

JP: Yeah, I really have to watch that. When I did that record with Ray Brown, we were doing a tune and he turns to me and says, "You gotta give me some room—leave some notes for me [laughs]." I get so used to playing down there in that low register that I really have to watch.

Other times, like with one bassist I used to play with that lived up in the high register, kind of like Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
, I would use the low end and play chords down there like a pianist would. Even with a pianist, I can ask them to use only the right hand when they're comping and then I can sneak in below them and add to the texture. Really knowing when and how to use those bass notes is important when playing the seven-string.

AAJ: Your brother, Martin, your father, Bucky, and wife, Jessica Molaskey, are all professional musicians. When you all get together for the holidays do you like to sing and play together, like many non-musical families do, or is that the time when you put the instruments down and just watch the football game?

JP: I don't think that we played that much this Thanksgiving, but over Christmas we have a sing-a-long that we've been doing it forever. We always like to finish up our family gatherings with music. We just play the fun songs and it's always been fun for us. When we want to do it we do it, when we don't we don't. It's usually a spontaneous thing.

Right before Christmas this year we had friends over and we started singing and before we realized it a neighbor came by and reminded us how late it was and it was probably time to stop [laughs].

AAJ: Your records tend to have a specific theme to them. Whether it's Duke Ellington, The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles

or a genre like bossa nova, there's usually a thread that binds all of the tracks together. Is this something that you see yourself doing more of in the future?

JP: Yeah, for me I like to pick one idea and go with it. I've made records that are collections of different songs from different composers but even then I like to try and tie them together somehow. The last five records have all had some sort of specific person or songwriter involved, so that's where I've been headed lately.

It's fun to think that if I want to go in this direction there are so many great writers and directions to choose from. It's almost a never ending source of inspiration and of course, great music.

Selected discography

John Pizzarell, Rockin' in Rhythm (Telarc, 2010)

Pizzarelli Family, PIZZArelli party (Arbors Records, 2009)

Jessica Molasky, A Kiss To Build A Dream On (Arbors Records, 2008)

Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Generations (Arbors Records, 2007)

John Pizzarelli, Dear Mr. Sinatra (Telarc, 2006)

John Pizzarelli, Bossa Nova (Telarc, 2004)

Ray Brown Trio, Some of My Best Friends are ... Guitarists (Telarc, 2002)

John Pizzarelli, Let There Be Love (Telarc, 2000)

John Pizzarelli, After Hours (RCA, 1996)

Stephane Grappelli

Stephane Grappelli
Stephane Grappelli
1908 - 1997
, Live at the Blue Note (Telarc, 1995)

John Pizzarelli, Dear Mr. Cole (Novus, 1994)

Harry Allen, Are You Having Any Fun?: A Celebration Of Sammy Fain (Audiophile, 1994)

Rosemary Clooney
Rosemary Clooney
Rosemary Clooney
1928 - 2002
, Do You Miss New York? (Concord, 1993)

John Pizzarelli, My Blue Heaven (Chesky, 1990 ) Photo credits

Page 1, 3: Courtesy of John Pizzarelli

Page 2: Jens Palm, courtesy of John Pizzarelli

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