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John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey Remember Dave Frishberg

The guitarist and singer pay tribute to the songwriter/pianist (3/23/33 – 11/17/21)

Dave Frishberg

Sometime in the late 1970s, dog-eared lead sheets of unusual songs started making their way to me through my father, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. One in particular was titled “Dear Bix.” It was a melancholy love letter set to song by Dave Frishberg, in which the writer is telling Bix Beiderbecke what a talent he is and how not to miss the world that’s traveling so quickly by. It was unlike any song I had encountered at that time. 

Dave’s songs were not “I Get a Kick Out of You” or “Night and Day.” They were quirky, funny, sad, humorous and hip. In fact, his song “I’m Hip” became the title track of my first LP in 1983. There was a time in the ’80s and ’90s when Dave’s songs, first performed in the ’60s by Irene Kral, Blossom Dearie, and Anita O’Day, were being discovered and performed by the next generation of popular singers like Diana Krall, Susannah McCorkle, Rebecca Kilgore, and Michael Feinstein. Rosemary Clooney insisted on a new Frishberg work each year for her NYC dates of the late ’90s and early 2000s—it’s why we have “I Want to Be a Sideman!” Songs like “Peel Me a Grape” and “Slappin’ the Cakes on Me” made you laugh and cry, and they stood out in a singer’s set. 

Another great aspect of Frishberg was Dave the musician. He was a great piano player, who played most notably with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn at the Half Note for years. To see Dave perform his songs (my first experience was at the now long-gone Ballroom in NYC on 27th Street) was to watch precision in words and music. What a body of work he brought forth in one 80-minute set! More recently, Dave’s last two gigs in NYC were with my wife, Jessica Molaskey. One gig was at Feinstein’s and the last one at the Oak Room at the Algonquin. I’ll let Jess tell you a story of their Feinstein’s engagement. … 

During our month-long run at Feinstein’s, Dave called one morning to say he wasn’t feeling well. I took a taxi over to the hotel to see how he was and got him to the emergency room at Lenox Hill. He had a kidney stone. He had to stay overnight. Instead of canceling the show, John came in with his trio and performed as many Frishberg numbers as he knew, which included “Van Lingle Mungo,” a song made up entirely of baseball players’ names that always makes him cry, most notably when he sings “Roy Campanella.” 

Dave made it back the next night and finished the gig without incident, slyly remarking that “patter songs and morphine were a dangerous mix.” 

A year later, around the same time of year, John and I were putting on our coats and getting ready to walk our daughter to the bus stop when the doorbell rang and we “buzzed up” a man who had a bouquet of flowers for me. I looked at John and he said, “I’m sorry, they’re not from me.” I read the card and laughed out loud. It read, “Happy Kidney Stone Day! Love, Dave.” He remembered that day for the next few years, always with some unusual gift. Back to John. 

I think what we’ll remember most about Dave is his craftsmanship. His ability to find the joke or a tear. The lyric about “waiting in line to see Annie Hall again” or “staring into your bowl of navy bean” stayed with you. He wrote about his attorney Bernie and a blizzard of lies, Zoot Sims and Marilyn Monroe. When it was hip to be hep, he was hep, and to paraphrase him from his own “Dear Bix,” “you’re one of the favored few, dear Dave, you’re one of a kind.”