JVC Jazz Festival-New York City
Bucky Pizzarelli's 80th Birthday Celebration
The Sunny Side of the Street of Jazz
Monday, June 19th 2006 - Kaye Playhouse @ Hunter College, New York
by John Coltelli
with Howard Alden, Harry Allen,
Gene Bertoncini, Paul Faulise
John Frosk, Fuss Kassoff,
Jay Leonhart, Tony Monte
Kenny Rankin, Martin
Tony Tedesco, Larry Fuller, Mike Renzi, Aaron Weinstein
Warren Vache & the Wire Choir (Southern Illinois University)
Produced by John Pizzarelli
a rainy evening in late June, the high rise luxury apartment buildings of Park Avenue
form a corridor that leads to the
located at Hunter College in New York City. This 650 seat auditorium will host the
80th birthday celebration of noted Jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli
and will feature performers such as his son,
Jay Leonhart and other noteworthy
friends who are scheduled to drop by. This intimate setting, filled with many who
remember much of Mr. Pizzarelli's more than fifty years of performing, will
resonate with the sounds of classic feel good Jazz and the emotions stirred by family
Born the son of a Patterson, New Jersey grocer, Bucky Pizzarelli
learned guitar and banjo at a very early age from his uncle Pete. Departing the
Union Avenue store as a child, Bucky would often carry his instrument along with
the groceries he was to deliver. With his rounds completed, he would often times
perform for his captive, yet willing customers. Later years saw this commitment
to the instrument reflected in performances with
Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett and Benny Goodman, with whom he
toured for many years. He also replaced the legendary Django Reinhardt in
Stephan Grappelli's trio. His accomplished strumming created a great rhythmic
powerhouse that was the foundation for many bands, including The Tonight Show Band
led by trumpeter Doc Severenson.
Hosted by Mr. Pizzarelli's son,
the concert began with duet versions performed by father and son of, "It's
Been a Long, Long Time" and "Don't
Take Your Love From Me". These songs set the stage for a retrospective
that would take us back to a time when Jazz was America's popular music and when
Swing dominated the charts. Clarinetist Ken Peplowski continued this retrospective
with, "A Little World Called Home",
as did saxophonist Harry Allen
on "If I'm Lucky".
The feistier, 40's Swing portion of the show, with horns blazing, gave
a rare, authentic view into the history of the music and made the bygone era come
to life. The time of an ever-expanding America, a country which shortly thereafter
found itself at war, was reflected in the dynamic, full bodied sound these veterans
churned out. The thumping energy and unleashed spirit that helped build a nation
resounded off the Kaye's walls and the feel good nature of the music spoke of optimism
and joy. There was no angst here, no blues, no self doubt, just the ebullient sound
of a music machine doing what its done best, bring smiles to the faces of it's audience.
This was the sunny side of the street of Jazz.
about this approach to the music
asserts, "Enjoy what you're doing, music should always be a joy, whether you're
playing hot jazz or just accompanying in a little band, it's always fun to do and
that's the thing. My dad loves playing rhythm, or playing lead, anything about the
guitar is fun for him. This is feel good music, it's the best jazz there is!"
Bassist Jay Leonhart
gave further testimony about this optimistic approach before his performance, "To
Bucky, the glass isn't half full, it's always flowing over!"
Throughout the performance, a slide show of pictures straight from the
family album made their way to the screen behind the performers. Photos of Bucky's
father, his uncle, the family owned store, all made the audience feel as though
they were in the Pizzarelli's living room, witnesses to a holiday gathering and
the ensuing musical accompaniment.
Afterwards, responding to a reporter's remark about this intimate living
room- family feel,
adds, "That's always the feeling, you know, yeah that's exactly what it was like.
That's why I had all the guys stay on the stage at the end."
The concert took a hair pin turn with the introduction of guitarist/vocalist
Kenny Rankin whose solo
performance on, "Pardon Me, Didn't
We Meet", and his bluesy, subdued version of George Harrison's, "While
My Guitar Gently Weeps" stood in bass relief to the sunnier material
we had been treated to earlier. Rankin's
accompaniment and angelically voiced bending of blues notes were therefore all the
more powerful and inspiring. Mr. Pizzarelli's influence on
Kenny Rankin has been profound
and was commented on after the show.
"In 1962, I quit the group I was with in Vegas and bought a $50 dollar guitar
and a Peter, Paul and Mary songbook.", Mr. Rankin goes on, "When I got to New York
I went to Manny's on 48th street and I picked up a Guild Mark V and a
book of chords. Then I went to Don and I said, how's this for a beginning?" ‘That's
good', "he said and while pointing to Bucky, he says,' you see that guy over there,
keep your eye on him!' "Bucky showed me my first A Major 7th,
so to know Bucky is to love him, he's just an extraordinary man and a wonderful
soul and I'm just privileged to be in his life!"
young musicians has always been an important part of the elder Pizzarelli's
life. Considering his use of the rare 7 string guitar, he has taught many about
the deeper, more expansive sound this additional string can render.
Having begun in Russia during the late 1800's, the 7 string guitar is
capable of a heavier bottom end and allows for expanded chord voicing possibilities.
Additionally, it became possible to play bass lines while playing chords and lead
solos. Introduced in the United States by George Van Eps in the
1930's, this unusual guitar's
second bass string, tuned to low A, is in large part responsible for the full, rich
tone evident in the Kaye Playhouse this evening. It is also this seventh string
that helped develop the heavy rhythmic style Mr. Pizzarelli exhibits and
created the chord solo style of lead guitar work
The modern era has felt some of this seven string blazing when guitarist
Steve Vai adopted the seventh
string and Ibanez built him an axe in 1990,
in turn, younger players in heavy metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit
continued the tradition.
Beyond the technical mastery exhibited throughout the concert, it was
chemistry with, and concern for, his father that shone brightly this evening. The
love and respect John had for his mentor were self evident, whether it was displayed
in getting him a stool to sit on or in his gently handing over an instrument to
Bringing the concert to a fitting conclusion were six young guitarists
from Southern Illinois University's music
program doing, "In A Mist"
from a Bix Beiderbecke piano roll transcribed for guitar.
With the elder Pizzarelli looking on, the influence he's exerted over
music during the course of the last half century and the continuing legacy his pioneering
efforts have wrought were clear.
As the crowd filed out the 68th street exit of the Kaye Playhouse
at Hunter College and into the New York night, they were touched by the Pizzarelli's
musical tour de force and their stroll down the sunny side of the street of jazz.
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Publishing Date: 04/09/2006