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John Pizzarelli Trio: For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole (Ghostlight)

A review of the guitarist/composer's third album celebrating Nat King Cole

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For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole
Cover of For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole by the John Pizzarelli Trio

When guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli last paid tribute to his primary musical inspiration with 1999’s P.S. Mr. Cole, he was in his late thirties, and Nat Cole probably still cast an imposing shadow as a legendary jazz master. P.S. was his second release honoring his hero, following not long after 1994’s Dear Mr. Cole, a swinging trio session with Benny Green and Christian McBride. A third Pizzarelli album celebrating the inimitable Cole might seem like overkill, but For Centennial Reasons (oy, that pun) has more to do with Pizzarelli’s age than Cole’s. At 58, he’s lived a dozen years longer than the pop star, who died of lung cancer in 1965 just shy of his 46th birthday.

Pizzarelli’s no less reverent here than on the previous albums, but instead of approaching the elder master with “Mr. Cole” formality, he imbues the 12 standards (and two originals) with a lived-in ease and familiarity that make it one of his more satisfying sessions. Featuring his finely calibrated trio with bassist Mike Karn and pianist Konrad Paszkudzki, the album seamlessly ranges across a smart array of material with only three repeats from the earlier albums (the relaxed opener “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” the quietly besotted “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and the jivey closer “Route 66”).

Whether he’s wending his way through well-worn ballads such as “The Very Thought of You” and “Body and Soul,” or cutting loose on obscure pieces like Bobby Troupe’s “I’m a Hungry Man” and Danny Barker’s “Save the Bones for Henry Jones (Cause Henry Don’t Eat Meat),” Pizzarelli finds the ideal tempo, his phrasing a model of grace and efficiency. Pizzarelli was never a wild man musically, but the older-and-wiser persona suits him on his latest Nat Cole communion.

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Originally Published

Andrew Gilbert

Andrew Gilbert is a Berkeley-based freelancer who has written about arts and culture since 1989 for numerous publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, East Bay Express, Berkeleyside, and KQED’s California Report. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he experienced a series of mind-blowing epiphanies listening to jazz masters at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in the late 1980s, performances he remembers more vividly than the gigs he saw last month.