by Marilyn Lester



A packed room at Birdland was primed and ready to celebrate to the hilt: it was not only Father’s Day but the return of acclaimed jazz guitarist John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli to the performance stage. From the moment his fingers touched the legendary seven-string jazz guitar with “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” it was clear that Bucky was indeed back – his playing still nimble and his prowess intact. By the second number, “Tangerine,” followed by “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” there was no room for doubt that the 90-year old master had passed through the dark cloud of a stroke (last October) and was now playing as well as he ever had. A brief introduction to the evening by Doug McIntyre, a host on KABC Radio Los Angeles, underscored the importance of Pizzarelli and players of his generation – that these one-time side men are supreme artists in their own right. From his first gig in 1944 with the Vaughan Monroe band, through to gigs with the Tonight Show band and the Benny Goodman Orchestra (among other distinguished associations), to his becoming a leader in the 1970s, Pizzarelli proves the point with unparalleled technique and artistry.


By Pizzarelli’s side was fellow guitarist, and long-time friend and playing partner, Ed Laub. Laub, whose artistic chemistry with Pizzarelli fits hand-to-glove, is also a singer with a pleasing voice and smooth style. He offered “’Deed I Do” (with a rousing solo interlude by Pizzarelli) and the parody song, “Benny’s From Heaven.” A band number, “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You,” featured the combined skills of the two guitarists, plus Konrad Paszkudzki on piano, Pizzarelli son Martin on the upright bass and Dag Markhus on drums. It was guitars only for a sweet and pungent “Send In the Clowns,” followed by the appearance of guest musician, the noted reed man and Pizzarelli friend, Ken Peplowski. Peplowski, toting clarinet for the set, is a genial sort, full of humor, noting with amusement the title of the song that preceded him. But his work on “Three Little Words” was seriously focused and agile, and the up tempo gave the senior Pizzarelli the opportunity to take off and really swing. The musicians relaxed into an easy tempo with “If I Had You” and picked up the groove again with “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” This jazz classic allowed Peplowksi to wail into the high notes and demonstrate nimble fingering on the keys, and also provided Pizzarelli a window for another masterful solo. Peplowski’s final number with the band was the mellow “Body and Soul.”


Barbara Carroll, Pizzarelli’s contemporary, and no stranger to Birdland, was on hand for a short guest appearance, playing “Have You Met Miss Jones” with consummate skill and mastery of the 88s. She dedicated her second number to Pizzarelli, noting it’s “how we all feel about Bucky,” singing “Old Friends” in the story-song style of Mabel Mercer. Closing out the evening, in which Bucky became the beloved father of us all, Ed Laub sang a solid version of the standard “I Was Doing All Right.” The grand finale was a triple time “Honeysuckle Rose,” which gave Paszkudzki a featured solo and Pizzarelli a final boffo opportunity to prove he’s back with a vengeance.


Marilyn Lester with Martha Lorin and Bucky

BUCKY’S BACK!!!!, Sun, Jun 16, 6:00 PM

Birdland, 315 West 44 Street, 212-581-3080, www.birdlandjazz.com