For nearly 30 years, guitarist John Pizzarelli has explored various corners of the jazz landscape and merged a variety of styles into a single, distinctive signature sound. On any given recording – indeed, in any given song – one is likely to encounter an entertaining convergence of jazz, swing, the American songbook, pop, bossa nova and more.
Double Exposure, Pizzarelli’s latest recording on Telarc – a division of Concord Music Group – focuses on two distinct styles to make a single fine recording. Set for release on May 15, 2012, Double Exposure is a collection of tunes by some of the great pop songwriters of his own generation that are framed squarely within traditional jazz arrangements.
“I didn’t want to just cover these songs, but rather find a way to present them that was unusual and interesting’” says Pizzarelli. “I think growing up in a household that had two specific record collections became the inspiration – my father’s jazz records, my sisters’ record collection and records brought around by their friends.”
The result is a fascinating and engaging musical hybrid. Double Exposure draws from a diverse pool of some of the best pop songwriters of the past five decades: Lennon and McCartney, Neil Young, James Taylor, Leiber and Stoller, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell and others. Woven into these memorable compositions are threads of jazz borrowed from figures like Wes Montgomery, Billy Strayhorn, Thad Jones and John Coltrane.
Pizzarelli is backed by his touring and studio band, featuring keyboardist Larry Fuller, bassist (and brother) Martin Pizzarelli and drummer Tony Tedesco. In addition, organist Larry Goldings assists on a number of tracks. A four-piece horn section arranged by Don Sebesky includes Tony Kadleck (trumpet, flugelhorn), John Mosca (trombone, euphonium), Kenny Berger (baritone sax, bass clarinet) and Andy Fusco (alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet), providing accents and embellishments along the way.
The 13-song set opens with the upbeat and uptempo “I Feel Fine/Sidewinder,” a track which Pizzarelli describes as “Lennon and McCartney meet Lee Morgan.” Before the recording sessions got under way in the fall of 2011, he and his band initially road tested the song at a Birdland gig in New York City. “There were kids there who were saying, ‘Hey, we loved the way you played ‘Sidewinder’ inside a Beatles tune!’”
This jazz-flavored rendition of the Beatles classic is the latest chapter in the prolific Pizzarelli-McCartney association that has developed over the past few months. Pizzarelli appears on several tracks on McCartney’s new album, Kisses on the Bottom, a collection of standards (plus two McCartney originals) released in early February. Two days after the release, Pizzarelli performed with Sir Paul at an iTunes concert at Capitol Records Studios in Hollywood, California. The two also performed together at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 12, 2012.
Pizzarelli’s intriguing renditions of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and Billy Joel’s “Rosalinda’s Eyes” are a nod to the guitarist’s high school and college years – a period during which he played in numerous pop and rock cover bands – while “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is his perky take on the Allman Brothers’ instrumental, augmented by themes from Wes Montgomery’s “Four On Six.” The combination was “something that just came out of the blue,” says Pizzarelli. “I was sitting up in my cabin, thinking about an instrumental. I thought about all the instrumental tracks the Allman Brothers have recorded over the years, and ‘Elizabeth Reed’ immediately came to mind.”
In “Walk Between the Raindrops,” the Donald Fagen song from his 1982 solo recording, The Nightfly, includes arranger Don Sebeskey’s homage to trumpeter Thad Jones.
The slinky, sly-sounding “Take a Lot of Pictures” is the album’s sole original track, as penned by Pizzarelli and his wife, singer/actor Jessica Molaskey. The title comes from an old expression by Frank Sinatra, who was known to grow weary of backstage fans with overactive cameras. “Take a lot of pictures” was Sinatra’s way of implying that he wouldn’t be returning to the venue anytime soon. Likewise, the Pizzarelli/Molaskey song is a bitterly comic sendoff to a love gone sour.
The album closes with a whimsical reading of Seals and Crofts’ 1973 hit, “Diamond Girl,” which quotes directly from Miles Davis’ iconic “So What” and features an expressive trumpet solo by Tony Kadleck.
“There was a lot more to this record than just writing out chords to these songs and saying, ‘Let’s play this,’” Pizzarelli says of Double Exposure. “I really worked hard on the arrangements. I worked on what everybody would play. And I sat down with the guitar and worked everything out before I even sat down with the group.”
“It’s a different kind of record, but it’s also something that I’ve been wanting to do for several years, so I’m glad I finally got to do it. It was a matter of finding the jazz to go inside the pop song, and doing it in a way that would be entertaining and engaging.”
“In each one of these songs, there are two things happening at once – a pop dimension and a jazz dimension – but at the same time they blend together very well. This is what my career has been about, ever since I first became aware of music and ever since I first picked up the guitar. This record provides the listener with an exposure to both of these very significant dimensions.”