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John Pizzarelli and Aaron Weinstein: Modern Swing

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When guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli takes to the stage in November as part of this season’s Izzy Asper Jazz Performances, audiences can settle in for a feast of classics from the American Songbook, delivered with panache.

Born in 1960, Pizzarelli began to play guitar at the age of six, following in the footsteps of his father, guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli. As a child he was exposed to great music and great musicians, and clearly he had the gifts to receive those impressions and make something of them. By the time he was a young adult, he was performing with his father, and since then he has set out on a busy career, establishing a solid international reputation as both a virtuosic guitar player and an expressive singer.

Pizzarelli brings the magic of the swing band tradition to life again. His guitar stylings reach back to the heady days when Django Reinhardt played in Duke Ellington’s band—there’s dexterity, there’s intensity, there’s real joy. As a singer, you can hear the whole lineage kicked off by Louis Armstrong. Pizzarelli has often said that “Nat ‘King’ Cole is why I do what I do.” He’s also powerfully connected to Frank Sinatra—one of his many recordings is entitled Dear Mr Sinatra.

As well as an intense international touring schedule, performing with his own trio and quartet as well as with orchestras, Pizzarelli is a busy recording artist, with almost two dozen recordings to his credit. Since 2000, he has released a new CD pretty much every year, recent titles being With a Song in My Heart (Telarc 2008), Generations, a recording with his father (Arbors 2007), Dear Mr Sinatra (Telarc 2006), Knowing You (Telarc 2005), and Bossa Nova (Telarc 2004).

Pizzarelli is also a performer who embraces lively collaborations, and one of those musical relationships is with the young jazz violin virtuoso, Aaron Weinstein. Downbeat recently named him a Rising Star Violinist, a designation that is certainly borne out by his performing and recording history. When he released A Handful of Stars (Arbors) in 2005, reviewer Nat Hentoff announced it “the rebirth of the hot jazz violin.”

Weinstein has recently graduated from the Berklee College in Boston, but while he was still in high school, he led the Stéphane Grappelli Tribute Trio—voted the best high school instrumental jazz group by Downbeat in 2002. Grappelli’s influence on this young violinist is palpable, from the warmth of his tone to the elegant phrasing to the fiery speed of delivery.

Weinstein and Pizzarelli have been playing together a fair amount over the past couple of years, and it’s a match made in heaven. Both have a genuine passion for jazz classics and both are natural entertainers, easy and playful with both the music and their audiences. Just as importantly, their musical voices connect effortlessly—in much the same way that Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli’s did a couple of generations back.

In 2008, they released Blue Too, a duo recording that shows off that perfect fit. A JazzTimes review puts it this way: “Weinstein and Pizzarelli are so closely attuned to each other’s touch and tone that each collaboration flows easily, no matter how fast the tempo.” Nat Hentoff points out that even without a standard rhythm section, the music-making has lots of lift—he credits that to the fact that “swinging is as natural as breathing” for these two players.

When John Pizzarelli and Aaron Weinstein take to the stage this November, they’ll be joined by members of the Pizzarelli Quartet—John’s brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Anthony Tedesco on drums, and Larry Fuller at the piano. If you’re looking for a couple of hours of beautiful music played with virtuosity and heart, this concert is it.

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