With a heady mixture of lounge act, jazz and theater, the married team of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey know how to work a room, charm an audience and draw the listener into a musical narrative with both a sense of fun and emotional fervor.
Pizzarelli is a jazzman for all seasons. His singing is light, assured and flavorful. He is also a quick-witted funny guy who tosses off unexpected jibes to wife, sidemen and some well-intended hecklers with a devilish twinkle in his eyes. And as taught by his legendary dad Bucky Pizzarelli, he is a dazzling guitarist who plays his instrument with extraordinary confidence and inventive improvisation.
His stunning wife Jessica sings like a morning lark and has the same intrinsic feel for jazz phrasing as her husband. An actor with a knowing theatrical awareness, she brought a rare sense of discovery to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “A Wonderful Guy,” turning unbridled flippancy into a querulous, unexpected awakening of the heart.
Molaskey’s opening take on Frank Loesser’s “If I Were a Bell” was accented by her husband’s supportive reply of “Ring-a-Ding Ding,” the Sammy Cahn-Jimmy Van Heusen tune that served Ol’ Blue Eyes so well. From the start Pizzarelli makes it known that he is always there, with his sense of joie de vivre, to support his partner.
With a nod to their 9-year-old daughter, Pizzarelli offers a sprightly “Little Girl” and, in marked contrast, sings Stephen Sondheim’s marital assessment “Sorry Grateful” with poignant insight. Also from the Sondheim shelf comes the rarely heard “Small World” from the classic biotuner “Gypsy,” with music by Jule Styne. Molaskey reveals the intimacy of a relationship with stunning clarity.
For an opening night encore, Pizzarelli reprised “I Like Jersey Best,” a “list song” that pays homage to the Garden State. It’s a kind of classic in the Pizzarelli repertoire, and he has added imitations of jazz and rock singers. It’s a bountiful roll call that may be a tad lengthy but is always a distinct crowd pleaser.
The duo have boldly flavorful support from pianist Larry Fuller, brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass and Tony Tedesco on drums.