There has essentially been only one period in American history when the most popular music was also the best, during the 30s to the 50s, and Saturday night there was a celebration of one of the chief purveyors, Nat “King” Cole.
Guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli and jazz icon/pianist Ramsey Lewis along with his team of Joshua Ramos/b and Charles Heath/dr delivered 90 minutes of music that mixed musicianship, melody, mirth and above all style to songs associated with the Nat Cole Trio. Songs that have become standards in anyone’s songbook such as “Route 66” and “Sweet Lorraine” bounced with a joyful swing that made you almost overlook the impressive dexterity of each artist. Pizzarelli’s fingerwork on his 7 string guitar during songs such as “Hit That Jive, Jack” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right” was quicker than the eye, while he did chord changes faster than a model for the LL Bean Fall Catalogue. His voice was sublime on romantic pieces such as “Foe Sentimental Reasons” and “Unforgettable” as he tapped like Astaire on his strings. Lewis, who actually had a jazz hit (is that an oxymoron?) with “The In Crowd” used that tune as a juxtaposition with “Welcome to the Club” for a hard swinging delight. His deft touch on “Body and Soul” was like autumn leaves by your window. The rhythm team of Ramos and Heath displayed their impressive wares on “Nature Boy” and “Straighten Up” respectively, while Pizzarelli kept the audience in stitches with banter that rivals Mort Sahl. By the time the show ended with the audience singing along with “Walking My Baby Back Home” the packed house felt that it didn’t enjoy and evening as much of nostalgia, but of a level of art and musicianship that needs to be passed on to the next generation.
The 2014-15 season promises another good year of music which includes Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus, and Jane Monheit among others. Stay tuned!