Originally created 02/13/98

Old jazz inspired guitarist Singer



Constant comparisons with Harry Connick Jr. don't bother hip jazz singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli.

"If you think (the show is) like Harry Connick, that's fine -- as long as you like it," said the 37-year-old musician in a phone interview from his Upper East Side apartment in New York City. "I'd take his success, anyway," he said.

Mr. Pizzarelli performs Saturday with the Augusta Symphony at the Valentine Pops concert at the Bell Auditorium.

While Mr. Connick is pretty much a household name after a quick ascent to stardom, Mr. Pizzarelli's stock is steadily rising.

"I continue to get work and gain popularity," he said. "Thankfully, I make a living doing what I like to do every day."

Mr. Pizzarelli said he ran into Mr. Connick in Amsterdam, where the slick piano-playing crooner asked him, "Do people compare you to me as much as (they compare) me to you?"

He also enjoys being compared with another crooner, Nat King Cole.

Mr. Pizzarelli says the smooth-voiced Mr. Cole is the main reason he plays music in a style that was in vogue in the 1940s and '50s.

"The way he (Cole) sang ... inspired me to do what I do," said Mr. Pizzarelli.

The son of jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, Mr. Pizzarelli has been playing guitar since childhood. He counts his father's friend, Les Paul, and Pat Metheny and Oscar Moore, who played with Mr. Cole, as his guitar heroes.

While growing up in Saddle River, N.J., Mr. Pizzarelli played in a few rock bands and can play a Jimi Hendrix riff upon request.

"He plays guitar as well as anybody," said Rudi Schlegel, director of Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta, a venue in which Mr. Pizzarelli performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. But he feels more at home crooning something like Straighten Up and Fly Right.

"I began on the banjo at 6, played guitar at 12 and entertained thoughts of being Billy Joel or Peter Frampton," Mr. Pizzarelli told People magazine in 1996.

Mr. Pizzarelli said it is hard to make it as a pop or rock singer because the competition is so fierce. As a "throwback" singer in the tradition of Mr. Cole, Johnny Mercer, and Mel Torme, he has few contemporaries.

Since 1992, he has toured extensively. He has opened dates for Frank Sinatra and starred in a Broadway review, Dream, a tribute to the lyrics of Mr. Mercer.

Mr. Pizzarelli's preference is classic pre-1950s pop music and jazz, but he also writes, records and performs original tunes in tribute to the Fab Four.

Although the concert is billed as Valentine Pops, Mr. Pizzarelli said he won't necessarily tailor the performance toward romance, because many of the songs he sings deal with love anyway.

"Maybe I'll wear a red tie," he joked.

In concert

What: Valentine Pops featuring John Pizzarelli with the Augusta Symphony.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: The Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St.

How much: $11-$25.

Phone: 826-4705

Sound bite

To hear John Pizzarelli, call INFOLINE at 442-4444 and press 8105. You'll hear part of the song Lullaby from the CD After Hours.