An Interview with John Pizzarelli
“LET THERE BE LOVE” says
By Paula Edelstein
The young and gifted Sinatra-style singer and guitarist showcases his golden tenor on 15 great songs collected for LET THERE BE LOVE. As with our generation, John Pizzarelli grew up hearing plenty of great pop songs, great jazz, Tin Pan Alley and Great American Songbook standards that stayed in his memory. The son of great jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli – John embarked on a music career with a style owed to his dad, Wes Montgomery, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. His voice works perfectly for the 15 songs on his latest release for Telarc Jazz, LET THERE BE LOVE, a soft, romantic gentle CD that sounds great anytime. With favorites like “Let There Be Love,” “Our Love Rolls On” and “Everything I Have Is Yours,” any hopeless romantic will be forever enamored with the beauty of this collection. John wrote four originals and the songs selected span 70 years of songwriting which reflect the universality of love over time. LET THERE BE LOVE —our sentiments exactly! We caught up with John between concerts and talked about his great new record.
JazzUSA: Hello John! Congratulations on your new release for Telarc Jazz, LET THERE BE LOVE. You’ve stepped away from the trio format on this one and brought together a really great ensemble for the CD that includes your dad, the great guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, your brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Ray Kennedy on piano, Tony Tedesco along with Ken Peplowski on tenor saxophone, among others. They really show their appreciation for your spontaneous expression of love! How did you get these guys all together in one place?
JP: Tony Tedesco is our drummer when we do Pop’s gigs, like with symphonies and big bands and he has played on our records before. Kenny Peplowski plays clarinet and Harry Allen on tenor sax have been old friends of ours…so if you can get them in town all at the same time, then we have our problems solved. Adding the drums was more of a business decision; because there’s something about the drums that has that added shine to it that sounds better on the radio. I wanted the sound of brushes on the tracks…the intimate sound of a guy playing brushes as if you’re just sitting around the living room!
JazzUSA: That intimate sound is definitely coming across on the CD. You continue to please your audiences with your great interpretations of the Great American Songbooks, wit and great original compositions. LET THERE BE LOVE spans 70 years of songwriting from some of the greatest writers in music history! How involved is paring down a list of that magnitude to get to the great 15 songs you included?
JP: I’ve been very lucky (as I knock wood) that there’s an editor that plays a crucial role in that. All the songs just come out the right way. The ones that aren’t supposed to be on the record usually don’t make it. I was just happy that this ended up being the right songs at the right time. You just know. It just always works out right. These decisions just seem to work out right!
JazzUSA: Besides singing and playing such great love standards as “These Foolish Things,” “As Time Goes By” and “Our Love Rolls On” you’ve collaborated with your wife, Jessica Molasky and Ray Kennedy to write “Lucky Charm” and “It’s Our Little Secret.” “All I Saw Was You” is yours alone. Can you give your readers and listeners an inside tip on the inspiration and influence for these three songs?
JP: You know it’s funny, the way Jess and I write. On “Lucky Charm,” I had this melody in my head, and I think I may have come up with the title. So whenever we write, I say something like, “we have to write a song like this.” And she is able to take that dumb idea that I come up with and write some really interesting, funny and intelligent lyrics! So that just happens. We had half of “Lucky Charm” written, went to dinner and then wrote the rest of it while waiting for the waiter to bring our dinner. So there we were, coming up with all different “arm” rhymes…farm, shoes on the table, Don Knotts and Clark Gable…(laughs). And with the “Our Little Secret,” Ray Kennedy had this instrumental melody that I was listening to. But I was thinking, “you know what, the way this record is turning out, I don’t think an instrumental is going to work on this record.” Literally, I was waiting for a ham sandwich to come, was home alone and I thought, well let me sit down and see if I can come up with a lyric for this. So in about one hour, I had the lyric worked out. On “All I Saw Was You,” which is my song… I wrote that song on a train between Washington, D.C. to New York, and I was just trying to think of song titles. I thought of an old Harry Warren song and thought, “what other way can I say that?” So because there were hardly any people in that particular train car, I was able to take out my guitar and write this song’s melody.
JazzUSA: You’ve stated that the concept for LET THERE BE LOVE is “songs which reflect the universality of love over time.” One of my favorite songs is “Everything I Have Is Yours” and you sing it with such great nuance and phrasing, it’s so romantic. Had this song been in your repertoire for some time or did you select it especially for this CD?
JP: I actually had awakened about 5:00 a.m. one day and couldn’t sleep. So I was going through this songbook of the 40s and stumbled upon this song. I had met Burton Lane who had written that song years ago so I started to play it. I thought, “This is really good.” I’d never been through the whole song before.
JazzUSA: The tribute to Les Paul “Just One More Chance,” is ripe. Why did you choose this particular song to dedicate to Les Paul?
JP: That song was a hit for Les Paul and Mary Ford in the early 50s and my dad had been subbing for Les Paul at the Iridium a couple of nights when Les was sick. So he had been playing it with their group and told me he loved this song called “Just One More Chance.” So I found a lead sheet of it and the music to it and went over it. I thought it would be great to get my dad to play on it, so I kind of beat him to the punch! That’s probably the oldest one on the CD, circa 1931. Arthur Johnston wrote that song and he is one of the co-writers of “Pennies From Heaven.” So just a little trivia for you!
JazzUSA: Great trivia…thank you so much! Your legendary father, Bucky Pizzarelli joins you on another tribute to seven-string guitar pioneer George van Eps on “I Don’t Know Why (I Love You Like I Do).” Was George one of the reasons you began playing a seven-string guitar?
JP: Indirectly. My father had always been a great admirer of George from hearing him on record and meeting him. In the 60s, George had a seven-string guitar mass-produced by Gretsch guitars. My father bought one and played it all the time. So when I started playing the guitar and playing with my father, he said, “why don’t you play the seven-string? It’s a good accompaniment instrument and I can use my seven string to accompany you and you can accompany me.” So I stumbled upon it because of my dad and he because of George van Eps.
JazzUSA: Funny how those things happen! Will you be appearing in concert soon?
JP: We have a long tour coming up with Maureen McGovern in 2001. Check out our tour information at www.johnpizzarelli.com and www.telarc.com We’ll be playing some great cities, so look for one near you!
JazzUSA: Thank you so much, John for this great interview. We really wish you a lot of success with LET THERE BE LOVE. Our sentiments exactly!