Jazz guitarist, vocalist and songwriter John Pizzarelli and his stupendous combo —consisting of the incomparable Larry Fuller on piano; his brother, Martin Pizzarelli, on double bass; and Tony Tedesco on drums — captivated an adoring audience in their one-night-only performance, Thursday, Jan. 10, at the Tarkington Theater at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts.
Pizzarelli, who is the son of legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, proved that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree — and then some — in a program of mostly songs from the Great American Songbook that are also on his various albums, including several from his most recent CD, “Double Exposure.”
Deeply connecting with the audience through his music, the affable Pizzarelli, a consummate entertainer, also kept the crowd engaged with alternately hilarious and interesting stories and anecdotes about his background and career, demonstrating a penchant for storytelling that is only surpassed by his gift for showmanship.
“Just You, Just Me,” “How About You?” and “You Make Me Feel So Young” were performed at the top of Act 1. These selections set the tone for an evening of swing that effectively showcased the first-rate musicianship of combo members during solo performances, Pizzarelli’s own virtuosity on the guitar, and the pleasing voice and impeccable phrasing that have garnered him a reputation as one of the finest jazz singers around.
Other highlights of Act 1 included “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me),” a song that Pizzarelli recorded with Paul McCartney in 2011 on the former Beatle’s “Kisses on the Bottom” album; a jazz version of “Ruby Baby” by Dion and the Belmonts, which he encouraged the audience to sing along with; and a romantic mash-up of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and “Shine On, Harvest Moon.”
Act 2 saw Pizzarelli and the combo pay tribute to Nat King Cole and his trio (who Pizzarelli credits with being a major influence on him) with “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” and “Send for Me.”
Showing his easy rapport with fans, the good-natured Pizzarelli departed from his set list when a fan in the audience yelled out a request for “Headed Out to Vera’s,” a song he wrote dedicated to his aunt, who is famed for her cooking.
Pizzarelli also paid tribute to Frank Sinatra, for whom he opened 20 years ago, when he sang what he says Ol’ Blue Eyes called his “saloon songs” — “Drunk on the Moon" and "Lush Life.” Prior to singing the songs, Pizzarelli tickled the audience when he related how the only thing that Sinatra ever said to him was, “Eat something. You look bad.”
Pizzarelli honored yet another jazz icon when he and his group performed Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll,” “In a Mellow Tone” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” They ended the evening’s concert with the pianist, bandleader and composer’s “C Jam Blues.”
“Rhode Island Is Famous for You,” by Blossom Dearie, was chosen as a low-key yet fitting encore for an evening of standards which richly bore Pizzarelli’s fresh and affectionate stamp.
For tickets and information about upcoming 2012-2013 Center for the Performing Arts season performances, call (317) 843-3800 or visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.