This year’s Stratford Summer Music festival is set to end with a live concert that shouldn’t be missed.
Recently, the four-week music festival announced it had secured Grammy winner and world-renowned guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli for its finale concert at Avondale United Church on Aug. 13.
“I first heard John Pizzarelli more than 20 years ago and that memory is as fresh today as the experience was back then,” Stratford Summer Music artistic director Mark Fewer said in a press release.
In a followup email sent from Washington, D.C., as he was rehearsing for a concert at the Smithsonian, Fewer told the Beacon Herald he first heard Pizzarelli perform when he was concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Pizzarelli had performed with that orchestra at the Orpheum theatre.
“I had never heard (him) perform before but was immediately a fan,” Fewer said. “I stayed a fan all this time and, now that I’m artistic director at Stratford Summer Music, it is indeed one of my great joys to have (him) join us in Stratford.
“I feel like a kid in the proverbial candy store.”
Praised by the Boston Globe for “reinvigorating the great American songbook and re-popularizing jazz,” Pizzarelli has established himself over a 40-year career as one of the prime contemporary interpreters of some of the greatest music ever written. In 2021, Pizzarelli won the Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album as co-producer of James Taylor’s American Standard, and has performed on some of America’s more popular TV shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Conan and Great Performances, as well as on the talks shows of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Regis Philbin and as part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In addition to jazz tributes to some of the greatest American musicians of the early to mid-20th century, Pizzarelli has reinterpreted the music of industry legends like Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Antônio Carlos Jobim and the Beatles, to name a few. He has also been included as a special guest on recordings for major pop names such as Natalie Cole, Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Wopat, Rickie Lee Jones and Dave Van Ronk, as well as those of leading jazz artists like Rosemary Clooney, Ruby Braff, Johnny Frigo, Buddy DeFranco and Harry Allen.
“The main component of what we do is swing jazz, I guess, in the style of Count Basie and the Oscar Peterson Trio, Nat King Cole Trio and things like that – piano, a bass and guitar,” Pizzarelli told the Beacon Herald in a recent interview. “Over the years, one of things I have done is taken Beatles songs or pop tunes in general and applied the style of music to those songs.”
On the 40th anniversary of his debut album next month, Pizzarelli will release his latest album, Stage & Screen, inspired by a collection of classic songs from Broadway musicals and Hollywood films spanning nearly a century. The songs from that album, which features pieces by such iconic songwriters and composers as Richard Rogers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Leonard Bernstein, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, as well as music immortalized in cinematic favourites like Casablanca, will make up a big part of Pizzarelli’s Stratford Summer Music concert.
“What we’ll do in the concert is a number of things from Stage & Screen. I think we’ll lean on that,” he said. “I know we want to play a couple of Oscar Peterson pieces because we’re in Canada and, obviously, (he’s) such a major influence on what we do. We are committed to playing the style of music we play as well as anybody plays it. You’re not going to hear anything better than what we’re going to do.
“We’re at the top of our game. Isaiah J. Thompson on piano is one of the hot, new piano players on the jazz scene. (Bassist) Mike Karn and I are more contemporaries to ourselves. I’m celebrating my 40th year as a guitarist and vocalist playing jazz music. We’re very excited to present it to people who haven’t heard it before, and I think you’re going to hear it at a very high level.”
In addition to being a world-renowned guitarist and singer, Pizzarelli has also had a long career in radio. He currently co-hosts Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli alongside his wife, Jessica Molaskey – a show that is broadcast around the world, including on Jazz FM out of Toronto.
“We’re very excited that our listeners will come to the show too,” he said, adding the Stratford concert is part of a much larger summer tour. “We’ve been talking about it on our radio show and we’re very happy to be back at it. We’re in full swing now and we’re very excited to be bringing the record out there.
“There’s no stopping us now.”
Tickets for the Stratford Summer Music finale concert, which will begin at 4 p.m. on Aug. 13, range in price from $40 to $125 and can be purchased by visiting stratfordsummermusic.ca/event/john-pizzarelli.