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Odds and Ends: Jersey Jazz Meets Abbey Road
Odds and Ends: Jersey Jazz Meets Abbey Road

John Pizzarelli riffs on travel, turbulence, and making McCartney’s music swing

Rick Tulka

When Sir Paul McCartney wants you to record an album of his songs, you do it. John Pizzarelli—jazz guitarist, singer, leader of the John Pizzarelli Quartet, lover of bossa nova and the Great American Songbook—is a lifelong Beatles fan. In 1998, the album John Pizzarelli Meets the Beatles was barely supported by the record label that produced it. But 13 years later, McCartney told Pizzarelli, who was playing guitar on recording sessions for the former Beatle, that he liked the album. In May 2014, McCartney proposed that Pizzarelli translate his post-Beatles songs into a jazz album, culminating in the recently released Midnight McCartney, which will become part of Pizzarelli's repertoire as he performs on college campuses and teaches master classes.

What's the question you're tired of hearing in interviews?

It's mostly that I can usually tell if someone's been on Wikipedia. I've been incorrectly listed as playing on two records: One is Wes Montgomery's in 1966. I would've been 6 years old. I've gotten, "What was it like to play with Wes?" I said, "Well, I missed the third session because I had to go back to kindergarten!" I learned so much from my father, John "Bucky" Pizzarelli, who is a renowned jazz guitarist, so another one I get is "Your dad's in the business. That must be something, what's that like?" Or "What's it like having a famous father who plays the guitar?" There you go, we've stumbled onto the question.

Like you, many of our members travel a lot. Have any advice or tips?

I like dressing for a flight. I wear a jacket and tie all the time on flights. I think that somewhere in the long run you're going to win—that it's going to help.

Was there a sense of greater responsibility or freedom since McCartney approached you to do this album?

My challenge was to find and mix his lesser-known post-Beatles songs, as he put it, with the ones that are better known, like "Silly Love Songs" and "With a Little Luck." It was fun. [Pianist] Larry Goldings, who participated in the record, would say, "How about this one?" Then my wife [singer Jessica Molaskey] would say, "This is a good one." She picked three or four of the songs. Then you have to figure out whether they are going to work lyrically or when we put them in our vernacular. When we turn them into jazz songs, will they still sound like songs? But there was no angst. He actually mentioned "Junk," "Warm and Beautiful," and "My Valentine" in the letter, so we were off to the races.

Is there a song that you're particularly proud of?

I'm totally knocked out by "Silly Love Songs." I love what we did with it, and I think the bonus cut, "Wonderful Christmastime," is great. I also really like "Let 'Em In" and "Coming Up." Those four. The whole process of making the record was so much fun, but when we hit "Silly Love Songs" we knew we were in the Midnight McCartney zone. That was his title. There wasn't a moment when I felt like we were putting a square peg in a round hole.

How do you prefer to listen to music?

I do all my listening on planes, mostly because I have my iPod. I have everything I like on it. So when I get on a plane, I have the noise canceling headphones, and I can listen to what I want. In the house when I put a record on, the phone rings or something. On planes, you don't want to hear people screaming and crying. If it's going to get a little turbulent, I'll go to some rock and roll because I hate when I hear everybody react.

Is there a certain song that goes particularly well with turbulence?

It's funny—it's a live track of "Roundabout" by YES that I go to at that moment.

—Interview by Theresa Walker




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