Guitarist, singer and radio personality John Pizzarelli, 52, is one of the most entertaining and engaging performers on today’s jazz scene. In his new book, co-written with longtime collaborator Joseph Cosgriff, he recounts his life in music, and that life is indeed a storied one. He started playing guitar shortly after he began walking, and alternately cut his teeth performing the pop music of his youth and gigging with his swing-loving father, guitar great Bucky. It was a schizophrenic upbringing that he eventually resolved by creating his own modernist takes on standards.
But being an outstanding performer doesn’t automatically mean you’ll write an effective autobiography. The challenge for the autobiographer is tone, a subtle but complex factor when it comes to self-expression. If you talk too boastingly about your accomplishments, then you come across as self-aggrandizing; minimize those same achievements and it seems like false modesty. Case in point: In the chapter describing his recording session with Paul McCartney, Pizzarelli struggles with balancing those contradicting tones. But it’s Pizzarelli’s reliance on comedy that stumbles most on the written page.