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John Pizzarelli at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts

Jim Santella By

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John Pizzarelli Quartet
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
Cerritos, California
April 22, 2005

John Pizzarelli knows how to impress an audience. He knows how much we enjoy the jazz tradition that carries a rhythmic swing with its interpretation. He knows that every audience loves a talented singer who communicates well. He knows that experience is the best teacher, and he knows that good showmanship requires a professional performance from start to finish. Pizzarelli scored A+ marks on all accounts Friday night to a full house at Southern California's premier concert hall. Everything fell into place as planned, and yet the singer/guitarist seemed as spontaneous and as fresh as the scene that transpires when your sixth-grade child comes home from school to greet you after winning the classroom spelling bee.

Along with pianist Ray Kennedy, bassist Martin Pizzarelli and drummer Tony Tedesco, he performed songs from his latest Telarc album, Knowing You, as well as other favorites, such as "Frim Fram Sauce," which made a superb impression on the audience. The intangible connection between John Pizzarelli and Nat King Cole remains solid and keeps his fans primed for more musical fun. It's always a joy to share what Pizzarelli has to say, sing, and play.

"Triple Play" began with a timely homage to baseball and morphed into a brief, quoted Thelonious Monk tribute before evolving into Pizzarelli's vocal/guitar celebration of "I Got Rhythm." It was a natural for the leader, who loves to scat-sing in unison with his animated guitar while swinging a melody from the ceiling.

"I Wouldn't Trade You" came laden with heartfelt emotion. The song, which Pizzarelli told the audience was written for Steve Martin's The Out of Towners (1999) before being cut from the final release of the film, made a lasting impression, as he sang convincingly of lasting romance and true loyalties. Pizzarelli, brother Martin Pizzarelli and pianist Kennedy each have cameo acting roles in the film.

"Lost April" and "Will You Still Be Mine?" (the encore), a ballad and a swinger, respectively, gave the audience variety; but the hands-down favorite was Pizzarelli's entertaining arrangement of "I Like Jersey Best." On this hip swinger, he ran through the song's fun-loving theme repeatedly, each time offering impressions of different, well-known singers that included: Paul Simon, The Beach Boys, Billie Holiday, Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash, Lou Rawls and Frank Sinatra. What an entertainer. In all, Pizzarelli's concert performance proved memorable and left his audience knowing that this is one jazz artist who we'll return to see year after year.

The Tierney Sutton Quartet opened for Pizzarelli's ensemble with over an hour of pleasantries that centered on standards from the Great American Songbook and from earlier Broadway musicals. Accompanying the noted jazz singer who lives and teaches in Southern California were pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Ray Brinker. The program, which included favorites such as "What'll I Do, "I Get a Kick Out of You, "Only the Lonely, "Blue Skies, "Cheek to Cheek, "Wouldn't It Be Loverly, "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face, and "Ding Dong, the Wicked Witch is Dead, spread the wealth around fairly so that each of the four artists could stretch out considerably. Cohesive as a bunch of vine-growing grapes on a sunny day, the quartet wove its musical thoughts into an intricate web of organization. Because Sutton remained perched motionless on her tall stool throughout the concert, however, and preferred to focus her eyes on a particular spot at the forward-most center rail of the balcony, her performance left out one of the most important facets of jazz: communication with her audience. Musical accuracy and creatively swinging sidemen were enough to please her audience, nevertheless, who loved her performance so much that an encore was required. She was not convincing on her June Christy tribute, "Something Cool. She did, however, generate considerable energy when using her voice as an instrument on "'S Wonderful. The high point of the program came with "Show Me, from My Fair Lady,, which brought out the singer's intense emotions, as she tore through those meaningful lyrics with untold fury. Passion proved to be Sutton's saving grace, as she proved to the audience that she meant every word. She'd better serve her loyal fans by selecting songs from her repertoire, such as this one, that allow room for a complete release of feelings and the casting of overt expression all through the concert hall.

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