In John Pizzarelli's house there must be a pillow with the following embroidered motto: "The family that plays together stays together." The Pizzarelli Family, meaning John, his brother Martin (bass), his father Bucky (guitar), John's wife Jessica Molaskey (vocals), and Ray Kennedy, their "adopted" first cousin (pianist), are all back at Feinstein's at the Regency doing what they do best--entertaining. And they do it at a level of musicianship that few ever achieve.
They're billing themselves these days as "The First Family of Cool." With a playful smile (his trademark), John refers to his famous guitarist dad as "The First Father of Cool." Noting the over-air-conditioned room, Jessica quipped that they were actually "The First Family of Cold." Not to worry; this talented group turned the heat up plenty.
Much of the music in their show offers the kind of flair we've come to expect from a Pizzarelli act. There's a laid back, almost effortless style that comes up against the complicated, showy riffs in songs like "Oh, How My Heart Beats for You" (by John Pizzarelli) and "Lulu's Back in Town" (Warren/Dubin). And take a sip of their tart "Lemon Twist" (Bobby Troup). These cats know how to play, which is very much the point of "All the Cats Join In" performed by Jessica (Wilder/Gilbert/Sauter/with additional verses by Molaskey) and the band. Ray Kennedy is always given the spotlight to perform a solo and, this year, he put together something called "The Gospel Truth." The underlying melodic theme has a sort of moral weight while his embellishments adorn the piece with an elegant beauty. Listening to Ray Kennedy play is, in fact, a religious experience.
This is very much John's show, but it's Jessica's contribution to the act that gives it greater theatrical dimension. In "I'm Just Wild About Harry" (Sissle/Blake) she takes an up-tempo tune that is memorable more for its music than its lyrics and turns it into a sultry, character-driven song; by the time she's through you'll be thinking that Harry is one lucky guy. Jessica also performs "The Gangster Rap" (Molasky/Pizzarelli), a very clever number
Finally, it's always wonderful to watch father and son play guitar together. At age 76, Bucky Pizzarelli is still a master. His duets with John have the feeling of a teacher passing the torch to a prize pupil. The love and respect they display for each other is as moving as the music that they make.