Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Backed by an outstanding jazz trioKevin Kanner on drums, Paul Keller on bass and pianist Josh NelsonPizzarelli and Molaskey delivered a two-hour concert of varied songs, including several standards, some pop hits by Paul Simon and Paul McCartney, and several showtunes by Stephen Sondheim. While Pizzarelli's intricate guitar playing takes the focus on many of the songs it is Molaskey's reflective vocals that add depth and layers, and even play off of and echo John's exceptional guitar skills.
Pizzarelli and Molaskey are about to celebrate their 20th anniversary together, having gotten married shortly after appearing in the musical revue of Johnny Mercer music called Dream, a Broadway flop back in 1997. Many of the songs in their concert commented on relationships, and the playfulness and self-deprecating humor of the couple was a natural fit for many of these songs. Stephen Sondheim, whom Jessica worked with on two productions of his shows, was the main composer featured throughout the concert. The biting yet humorous cynicism of Sondheim's "The Little Things You Do Together" from Company served as a playful commentary between the couple. His "Children and Art" from Sunday in the Park with George and "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods served as a reminder of the importance of instilling both art and children with the right level of responsibility, since they are what artists and parents leave behind when they are gone. "Buddy's Blues" from Follies became a conversation between the two and was revelatory in how it transposed this story song of a philandering salesman into a modern satire on married life.
John Pizzarelli is not only known for his exceptional musical skills but in the humorous stories he tells in concert. His Scottsdale concert was no exception. John told comical stories that incorporated his friendships with Les Paul and Paul McCartney and at one point even started talking in depth about how Les Paul's guitars were made. Jessica mockingly commented, "I didn't realize this was a four credit course." Pizzarelli was featured on one of Paul McCartney's recent albums and McCartney himself asked John to record an album of post-Beatles McCartney tunes. John performed both "My Love" and "Silly Love Songs" at the concert and his playful crooning added an upbeat and varied take from Sondheim's more negative view on relationships.
Some standards were also featured in the evening, including a lovely pairing of "You Made Me Love You" and "It Had to Be You." Molaskey's added lyrics to a Miles Davis song, now entitled "Twelve Steps to Heaven," served as a humorous lament on how social media has taken over our lives. Three songs from decades ago that focus on death, dread, and doom (Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" from his Graceland album along with his "Late Great Johnny Ace" and Billy Joel's "Summer, Highland Falls") were combined and turned into a contemporary view of the world, with Joel's lyrics "They say that these are not the best of times but they're the only times I've ever known" and "It's either sadness or euphoria" having special relevance in the confusing world we live in today.
But it was a song from over seventy years ago that served as the highlight of the evening. John sang Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" from South Pacific with only his own guitar accompanying him in a folksy version of the song. It was a stirring delivery that served as a reminder of how we all need to make our own decisions about our fellow human beings and not listen to our parents or our politicians and their potentially racist views. Jessica commented that she asked John to sing it that night. The fact that the concert happened just hours after Donald Trump's speech less than 20 miles away did not go unnoticed.
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday March 19th, 2016. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org and information on upcoming concerts with John Pizzarelli can be found at www.johnpizzarelli.com.