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John Pizzarelli to Honor Nat King Cole During Sun Valley Appearance
Monday, October 18, 2021


World-renowned guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli was 19 when a friend introduced him to the song “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”

Bowled over by the song, which was based on a black folk tale that Nat King Cole’s father referred to in one of his sermons, Pizzarelli’s father Bucky Pizzarelli counseled him to listen to Cole’s recordings.

“You’ll love him,” he said.

Young Pizzarelli did so and found that many of Cole’s songs, such as “Route 66,” were the perfect repertoire for a young musician.

“It totally changed my ideas about jazz singing and songs and things like that,” he said. “And, as a 19-year-old who was still maturing musically, ‘Route 66’ was approachable and perfect for what my voice was.”

Nat King’s Cole music has always stuck with him. And on Thursday, Oct. 21, Pizzarelli and the John Pizzarelli Trio will present “For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole” at The Argyros in Ketchum.

The 7:30 p.m. concert will pay homage to Nat King Cole and his memorable hits, such as “Paper Moon.” And it will honor some of the iconic singers featured on Cole’s TV show, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Dinah Washington.

Pizzarelli started playing guitar at 6, doing his best to imitate his father Bucky, a jazz guitarist who worked for Dick Cavett and collaborated with Benny Goodman, Les Paul and others. The elder Pizzarelli died of COVID in April 2020.

“The majority of things I learned in my youth was from going to the University of Bucky Pizzarelli,” he said. “From the time I showed an interest in the guitar, he was always pointing me in the direction of guitar players to listen to—Nat King Cole being one of them. It was Nat King Cole who became my hero and foundation—I recorded two albums paying homage to Nat King Cole’s music.

“I was always fascinated by the guitar part of his trio, and my father said that’s what Nat King Cole started—the idea that a guitar could have so much to do in a group. And Nat Cole’s repertoire was so unique to him. I could relate to his songs, like ‘I Love You for Sentimental Reasons’ and ‘Nature Boy.’ ”

John Pizzarelli worked with his father from 1980 to 1990 before starting his own group in 1990. It was a good time to be starting out, he said because of the emphasis on Natalie Cole, Linda Ronstadt, Harry Connick and the Great American Songbook.

 In fact, Pizzarelli expanded the repertoire of the Great American songbook by including the music of Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Neil Young and other contemporary pop artists. That prompted the Boston Globe to hail him for reinvigorating the Great American Songbook and re-popularizing jazz.

Over the years, Pizzarelli has performed with too many stars of the stage to count. He opened for such greats as Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis and Rosemary Clooney, and he opened for Frank Sinatra’s international tour in 1993, joining Old Blue Eyes’ 80th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall. He also was a special guest on recordings for such artists as Natalie Cole and Ricky Lee.

“My father would play with Rosemary Clooney in New York City. We were friends the last eight years of her life and I recorded with her a couple times. I played with James Taylor, then with Paul McCartney,” he said.

In fact, Pizzarelli backed Paul McCartney on McCartney’s Grammy-winning 2012 album “Kisses on the Bottom,” later joining him for a few concerts. Fifteen months later, McCartney urged him to record some of McCartney’s lesser-known songs in jazz fashion, and that album reached No. 4 on Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart.

“The wonderful thing about Paul McCartney was getting to meet him,” Pizzarelli said. “He was probably as famous a person after Frank Sinatra, whom I met in 1993 in Berlin Germany. When I met Paul, he immediately noted that I’d made a Beatles record. In fact, I’d made that record about 12 years earlier. It was amazing to me he was aware of it. Sometimes you think nobody’s listening, but everybody’s listening.”

Pizzarelli just finished an album titled “Better Days Ahead, which features the music of Pat Metheny.

“My wife and I have worked together for 26 years and we’re going to try to make a record of Stephen Sondheim music. We hope to get the trio into studio by end of year. I actually have a lot of projects I’m trying to do right now—a flurry of activity after pandemic. We’re being careful but we’re still trying to get out there.”

Pizzarellli’s trip to Sun Valley is the first since the pandemic started with the exception of two weeks in California at the end of August.

“People have told me, ‘You’re going to love Sun Valley and Ketchum and all the things you can do out there,” he said. “I’ve got a list of recommended restaurants to print out. I’m excited to check out the general beauty of the area. And, apparently, there’s a guitar maker I need to look up. There’s a lot of things to do before the sound check!”

Tickets for Pizzarelli’s concert start at $25, available at


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