By Andrew Poretz . . .

The renowned guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli returned to Café Carlyle last night with his quartet to open a two-week residency.  A frequent artist at this world-class, old-school supper club, often with his wife Jessica Molaskey, the star celebrated the music of legendary blind British pianist, the late George Shearing.  (Theater Pizzazz was on the scene in 2022 for Mr. Pizzarelli’s Shearing tribute at another venue and his 2022 run at Café Carlyle.)

Shearing’s distinctive sound came in part from the “locked-hands” chord-voicing approach to block chords that he popularized but did not invent.  The hands are placed close together, with the left hand doubling the melody an octave below the right.  In his quintet, the guitar and vibraphone played in close harmony to his.  Interestingly, the overall effect bears a certain similarity to Mr. Pizzarelli’s trademark doubling technique of matching his scat singing to his guitar notes.  This makes for quite a pairing, or perhaps quadrupling, as it did on their 2002 album, The Rare Delight of You

Mr. Pizzarelli, in addition to being a jazz guitar wizard and a very appealing singer, is standup-comic funny.  His belly laugh-inducing stories alone are nearly worth the hefty cost of an evening here.  At the Carlyle in particular, these stories are more intimate.  For this show, George Shearing was the main subject of John’s marvelous storytelling.  John’s story of impersonating George Shearing in a voicemail left with the head of the record company was quite funny – but retelling it here would be a spoiler.

Helping create the Shearing sound were pianist Tadaka Unno and vibraphonist Chuck Redd making their Café Carlyle debuts supporting Mr. Pizzarelli, along with John’s frequent bassist, Mike Karn.

John opened with “If Dreams Come True” (Benny Goodman, Irving Mills and Edgar Sampson) the opening track from The Rare Delight of You.  (The first six songs were from the album, in track order.)  On “The Lady’s in Love with You,” Mr. Redd utilized the oft-quoted riff from “I’m Beginning to See the Light” as a motif. 

John sang “Everything Happens to Me” (Matt Dennis/Tom Adair), sans verse, initially with only piano accompaniment.  When the vibes and piano kicked in, they effectively evoked the Shearing sound.  The star told the moving story of making the album in 2001, which was interrupted by 9/11 but ultimately recorded later that year. 

“Something to Remember You By” (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz”) began with a gorgeous rubato verse that John sang while lightly comping.  The spare arrangement was one of several greatly enhanced by Mr. Karn’s melodic bass playing. 

Bobby Troup’s name typically conjures “Route 66.”  “We’re not playing that tonight,” the star announced, playing instead Troup’s “Lemon Twist,” an ode to a cocktail.  With its clever, citrusy lyrics, it might have made a fine Nat King Cole recording.  It was a whimsical highlight of the evening. 

John’s instrumental arrangement for “Isn’t it Romantic” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) was borrowed from Peggy Lee’s album with Shearing, the 1959 Back to the Beat (as was the opening song).  Utilizing the trademark Shearing sound opened the door to more instrumentals than usual for a John Pizzarelli show, including “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon),” despite it being a singer’s song.

Mike Karn’s melodic runs and terrific harmonic lines were showcased on an instrumental of Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll.”  Karn’s playing brings to mind Joe Comfort’s brilliant playing on the Sinatra recording of “Too Marvelous for Words.”

Another show highlight was “The Rare Delight of You,” the title song of John’s album with Shearing.  John wrote the melody and his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey, wrote the lyrics while flying back from a trip to Italy.  This rare delight of a song left one thinking, “Why isn’t this a standard?”  It’s a beauty in its construction and the lyrics.  It ought to find its way into many a singer’s repertoire.

No George Shearing tribute would be complete without Shearing’s most famous composition, the jazz standard “Lullaby of Birdland,” and the quartet did this justice.

When John announced a final number, he telegraphed the business of feigning a walk-off, getting the applause and walking back on for an encore.  “I want there to be an encore, because we need to rehearse the encore,” he exclaimed, to much laughter.  With the audience playing along, shouting “Encore!”, John closed out the show with a lovely swing ballad of “This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship.” John Pizzarelli is off to a fine start in his latest Carlyle run.  It may be a hot ticket, but in this intimate room, even the bar seats are excellent.  The newly revised menu includes possibly the greatest bowl of minestrone you’ll ever taste. 

John Pizzarelli at Café Carlyle opened on March 14 and continues through March 25 (except Sunday and Monday) at Café Carlyle, East 76th Street at Madison Avenue (

Photos: David Andrako