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Monday, July 23, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.
Nicole & Co.
John Pizzarelli talks Beatles and bop before Seattle appearance
By Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist
John Pizzarelli was about to enter a recording studio with Paul McCartney. Forget about how to address a guy who's been knighted by the Queen of England.
The real dilemma: What shoes to wear?
"I made sure I didn't wear leather shoes," the jazz guitarist told me the other day. "He's vegan, and we were trying to be cool. We wanted to be sensitive to Paul."
"Paul." Listen to this guy.
Everyone should, actually, starting with Pizzarelli's two nights at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley on Tuesday and Wednesday. It's a room he has packed for years with fans who not only love his seven-string skill with the Great American Songbook, but the way his Jersey-style, between-song wisecracks give way to smooth vocals that stir old-school feelings of lurve.
Pizzarelli will appear with his stand-up-bass-playing brother, Martin; drummer Tony Tedesco; and pianist Larry Fuller.
And along with the Nat King Cole covers and the bits of bossa nova, Pizzarelli will play from his new album, "Double Exposure." It's a collection of 13 covers of the songs he was raised on: the Joni Mitchell that his sister wore out, the Billy Joel that he played in bands through high school.
Each song is paired with a jazz overlay that Pizzarelli picked from the music his father, renowned guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, brought into the house.
So the Allman Brothers' instrumental "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" leans against Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six." The Beatles' "I Feel Fine" gives way to hard bop trumpeter Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder." The Seals & Croft hit "Diamond Girl" is tinged with Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue."
Not only is it good music, but it plays to Pizzarelli's reputation as a teaching artist. Rarely does he perform something without telling the audience the story behind the song, a bit of dish about the artist, or something about the time in which the song was written.
"You want to lead them a little bit and let them know what's coming their way," Pizzarelli said. "Not everybody knows who Lee Morgan is. If we can lead them in the right direction, if they know what they're hearing, well, that's the ballgame."
Pizzarelli did the same thing with his 1998 album, "John Pizzarelli Meets the Beatles." On a trip to London not long after, he left a copy of the CD with a musical director named John Wilson. Wilson, in turn, got the CD to McCartney.
Fast forward to this past spring, when Pizzarelli got a call: McCartney wanted him to play on his album of covers, "Kisses on the Bottom."
"It was one of those moments where you think, 'I hope he's not an idiot,' and he wasn't," Pizzarelli said. "He was genuinely very sweet and his musical instincts were spot-on.
"There is a reason why he is a star," he said. "The Beatles were not a mistake."
Even better? There were no budget limitations. Paul McCartney can do as many takes as he wants, which was great for the musicians in the room, including jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall.
"He was just totally open to stuff," Pizzarelli said of McCartney, "and he never made a suggestion where you thought, 'This guy's nuts!' He was lovely to be around, and he'd tell you stories and you ended up paying attention to everything that happened, so it was particularly exhausting.
"You always wanted to be next to him. You wanted to sneak around and listen to him talk."
It couldn't have been a one-way thing, though. What did McCartney learn from him?
"I think that he liked that we'd all learn a song together," he said. "He loved the jazz aspect of it. And he realized in a weird way that he was on our turf."
The experience is likely to be part of Pizzarelli's first book, "World on a String: A Musical Memoir," which is scheduled to be released in November.
The book will chronicle the life with his famous father; his upbringing amid some of jazz's greatest artists; his formative years spent straddling baseball and band practice; his time playing with everyone from Rosemary Clooney to Frank Sinatra to James Taylor; and his travels around the world.
Seattle feels closer to home than most cities. Over the years, Pizzarelli has made friends and turned several spots into regular haunts, including Armandino Batali's Pioneer Square spot, Salumi.
"It's always a city that I like to get to," he said. "I have a lot of great friends there. And there's cured meats!"
Just don't tell Sir Paul.
Nicole & Co. appears Sundays in NW Arts & Life.
Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
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