Legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli is on tour with pianist Benny Green; the pair comes to Seattle's Jazz Alley on June 9 and 10, 2009.
In the post-bop world of jazz, the guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli is a novel concept. He is a jazz musician who remembers when his job description was to play dance music; he prefers to be a sideman and would sooner strum than pick; you would not call his style minimalist, but he understands getting more out of less, preferring elegance over speed.
He is not without ego, but does not covet the title “composer” before his name. He is a classic, jazz guitar player, the likes of whom are few and becoming more rare.
“I know the business upside down, and I know what you’re supposed to do when you play for an audience,” said Pizzarelli, who, at age 83, is one of the oldest working jazz musicians around. “You got to entertain them. That’s gotten lost I think. It’s always, ‘Then I wrote this, and then I wrote this.’ You don’t hear ‘Tea For Two’ or ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,’ or ‘Stardust,’ those great standards.”
With Pizzarelli, standards are what you get, beautifully rendered, in a style that speaks to the history from which it came. He will perform at Jazz Alley Tuesday and Wednesday night as a duo with the much younger pianist Benny Green, 46, known as one of the most gifted solo players of his generation. The two were first put together by a Minneapolis club owner.
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“I asked him who I was playing with and he said, ‘Just a piano player,’ ” Pizzarelli said from his home in Saddle River, N.J. “I said, ‘No drummer, no bass?’ And when he told me it was Benny Green, I thought, ‘Wow.’ I mean, he’s like an orchestra in one man.”
Pizzarelli and Green will play one set each night as they start off a West Coast tour that will also take them into Canada and California. The beauty of the pairing lies in their skill as accompanists. The best duos are made of musicians who are equally good at playing solo and backing up another player.
“I think a guitar should make the other guy sound the best he can sound,” said Pizzarelli, who has accompanied just about every jazz musician in the encyclopedia. “It sounds like a short order, but it’s very complicated. It’s not what you can do, it’s what you don’t do, that’s the secret. I’ve played behind a lot of great singers, and that’s why they hire you, not to play solo, but because of how you play for them.”
Pizzarelli began his career as a guitarist for a big band and continued that role for much of his career. He also had a longtime gig at New York’s Pierre Hotel, playing with pianist John Bunch and bassist Jay Leonhart.
He was among the first guitarists to incorporate a seventh string, tuned to a low A, giving him the ability to play a walking bass line if needed and expand the range and depth of his instrument. The richness of his solo playing is grounded in his skills as a rhythm guitar player.
And though Pizzarelli can sing, he has never bothered to make it a regular part of his performances — like his son, guitarist-singer John Pizzarelli, himself a huge commercial success.
“It’s great to play with him,” Bucky said. “He doesn’t play the way I do, he’s got his own special style. You know, he started off playing rock ‘n’ roll.”
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