Originally created 12/08/00

Augusta Symphony will get jazzy



The Augusta Symphony Orchestra will flex its musical muscle tonight with guest artists who sing and swing.

As part of its pops series, the Augusta Symphony is staging a holiday program with the Sandlapper Singers and jazzman John Pizzarelli.

The first half of the program will feature the orchestra and the Sandlapper Singers. Donald Portnoy, the Augusta Symphony's musical director, predicted that the Sandlapper's rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas would be the centerpiece of the first act.

"They have arranged the 12 days so each is done in a different musical style," he explained. "The first is madrigal, and then they progress chronologically through to a Sousa march."

The second half of the show will feature the orchestra backing the John Pizzarelli Trio. Guitarist John Pizzarelli, son of jazz legend Bucky Pizzarelli, has made a name for himself through his original music and his interpretations of music by acts as diverse as the Beatles, Nat "King" Cole and, as in this concert, holiday music.

"I think what we are trying to do is bring to Augusta the very finest in musical entertainment," Mr. Portnoy said. "John is one of America's great and very versatile performers. Bringing him to Augusta with his trio, we are bringing something of such quality that you probably wouldn't usually be able to see it locally."

Mr. Pizzarelli gained an audience with his adaptations of popular music. He said in a recent telephone interview that he wants the music to remind listeners of the original without imitating it.

"There are groups out there that try to copy what they hear on a record," he said. "We certainly learn from records by our favorite people, but we want our music to be an homage rather than a copy. We know that we could never sound like Nat Cole or Frank Sinatra."

Mr. Pizzarelli has performed in a number of settings with numerous combos. Sometimes a session player and sometimes a bandleader, he said he is driven by the potential of each situation.

"I really like the excitement of different settings," he said. "What gets me going is the prospect of how the music is going to sound. For instance, I get excited about symphony gigs like this because it means I get to hear those charts I spent a lot of money on."

His style is marked by an easy, swinging sound reminiscent of the classic jazz combos of the 1940s and '50s. Mr. Pizzarelli said he originally picked up the guitar with another career path in mind.

"I never felt like that would be what I did," he said. "For a time, I thought I would write songs and be James Taylor or Billy Joel. That was until I heard the Nat Cole Trio. I knew then what I wanted to do. So, instead of bopping around stage in a T-shirt and jeans, I bop in a tuxedo."

And while Mr. Pizzarelli has found his niche in the world of jazz, he said there is still a part of him that longs to rock.

"It's funny because once a year I will call my friend Gary Haas, and I talk to him about the pop songs I've written since I was in high school," he said. "I still think about doing those songs, which basically sound like Kenny Loggins circa 1983. In fact, we demoed four of them last year and updated them a little. Now they sound like Loggins circa 1987."

On stage

What: The Augusta Symphony Pops Concert featuring the Sandlapper Singers and the John Pizzarelli Trio

When: 8 tonight

Where: Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St.

Admission: $15-$35

Phone: 826-4705

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.