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Ramsey Lewis & John Pizzarelli on Nat King Cole

A live, moderated JazzTimes chat with Mark Ruffin

Since early 2013, pianist and broadcaster Ramsey Lewis, 79, and singer-guitarist John PizzarellI, 54, have performed together intermittently in a popular tribute to Nat King Cole. One such gig took place at the 2014 Detroit Jazz Festival, held Labor Day weekend, where they also participated in a JT-sponsored live discussion moderated by Mark Ruffin of SiriusXM Radio. Over the course of the hour, Lewis and Pizzarelli (who has long paid homage, in concert and on record, to Cole) reflected on the legacy and influence of this American icon.

John Pizzarelli, Detroit Jazz Festival 2014
John Pizzarelli, Detroit Jazz Festival 2014

Ruffin:John, do you remember the first time you heard Nat Cole?
Pizzarelli: I think the real moment that changed my life was when I learned “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” but by a different artist. A guy named Frank Weber made a record of pop songs, and in the middle of it was “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” I learned it and I played it for my father and he said, “That’s Nat King Cole. You should find those records.” So I went to Sam Goody the next day-remember record stores? [audience cheers] I’m that old. Capitol Records had just put out The Best of the Nat “King” Cole Trio, volumes one and two. I grabbed them out of the bin and I went home and he said, “Put on ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon.'” I put on “Paper Moon” and he said, “Now put on ‘Body and Soul’ and listen to [guitarist] Oscar Moore.” I went, “Oh, my God.” That was completely different than anything I had ever heard before, and I said, “I’m gonna steal all that.”

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Originally Published