Turning hot rock to cool jazz

For American guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, jazz is truly in his blood.

The 53-year-old, who will be performing at the Esplanade Concert Hall on March 15 as one of the headliners at this year's Mosaic Music Festival, grew up and learnt to play the guitar from his father, influential jazz musician Bucky Pizzarelli, 88.

His wife, Jessica Molaskey, 52, is a jazz singer who has performed on Broadway, while his brother, Martin, 50, plays double bass in his band.

The family tradition is being passed down to his and Molaskey's 16-year- old daughter, Madeleine, he tells Life! in a recent telephone interview from his house in New York.

"My daughter plays with us now, she has the musical instinct. She plays guitar and sings. She's going to do a concert with us on Thursday - my wife and I are doing a show and my daughter's going to play and sing in it and it's going to be the first time we'll all play together."

On his own, Pizzarelli is one of the most hard-working jazz men in New York, having recorded more than 23 solo albums and played music on more than 100 albums over a career that began in the early 1980s.

His latest album, Double Exposure, released in 2012, received rave reviews from critics. It comprises jazzy renditions of pop, folk and rock classics from the likes of The Beatles (I Feel Fine), Elvis Costello (Alison), Neil Young (Harvest Moon) and Joni Mitchell (Free Man In Paris).

The Observer describes the song arrangements as being "sharp and witty" and his singing "deceptively easy-going" while website PopMatters praised Pizzarelli for "showing folks how jazz, even in some of its older styles, shares a vocabulary with more modern popular music".

He credits his father, a player acclaimed for his mastery of the seven-string guitar, as a huge influence on his music.

"He led me in the right direction of things to listen to and one of them was Nat King Cole, his trio, and to listen as much for the accompanists on the record as to the soloists."

When he was younger, Pizzarelli was as heavily into baseball and other sports as he was into music, but eventually chose the latter.

"Baseball was the one thing I could have taken on, but I was never very good at it," he says.

He has since performed with some renowned names in popular music. In the early 1990s, he was the opening act for one of iconic crooner Frank Sinatra's last tours. More recently, he played on a few tracks for ex-Beatle Paul McCartney's 2012 album, Kisses On The Bottom.

An inspirational figure himself to budding jazz guitarists, he advises younger musicians to gig as much as possible to build up their chops.

"Find people you want to play with and find places you want to play, no matter what the price. Find a place where you can play a couple of nights with your buddies who are similarly interested in the music, so you can learn your craft.

"I did that for years, just sat in bars playing music by myself, singing Nat King Cole songs or some nights with a trio and nobody would listen. But I was constantly trying to work on arrangements and things."

He is thrilled to come back to Singapore, having last played here at the Esplanade Theatre in 2005, which was his first gig in Singapore.

Aside from his brother, he has two new band members rounding up the quartet that will be playing here next month - drummer Kevin Kanner and pianist Konrad Paszkudzki.

"It's a brand new band for me, except for my brother. We've just been working together for a couple of months and we're really excited to be going out and playing songs from all the old records and an emphasis on the Double Exposure CD."

Life! is the official newspaper for Mosaic Music Festival 2014.


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