John Pizzarelli at the Café Carlyle





By Adam Cohen


Café Carlyle is a legendary club in New York City. Nestled in The Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side, it was the music home of legends like Bobby Short. Seating only 90 it is one of the most intimate spaces for a great evening out. And currently, guitarist virtuoso John Pizzarelli holds court with his trio performing a tribute to Nat King Cole. The concert celebrates Cole warmly with sweetly and expertly performed songs. The love Pizzarelli holds for Cole radiates immensely through this very special evening. It is a fitting tribute with fine musicianship that celebrates Cole and his lyricists and composers as Pizzarelli mines the set list for classics and b-sides that went to the top of the charts.

Pizzarelli recently released a tribute album “For Centennial Reasons” commemorating the 100th birthday of Cole. The album and concert feature the Billboard chart-topping guitarist/vocalist, pianist Konrad Paszkudzki, and double-bassist Mike Karn on a variety of tunes worthy of the 1940s pop/jazz icon.



The concert is a worthy tribute to Cole and a shining beacon of the amazing musical skills of Pizzarelli, Paskudzki and Karn. They have a deft shorthand that allows each to shine with solos and together. The evening opens with “Love.” Pizzarelli plays with grace and smiles joyfully as he masterfully commands the room. He peppers patter between songs with personal anecdotes about his father Bucky (complete with impression); experiencing Cole’s music on the family hi-fi, an audio device that potentially spanned the width of Café Carlyle; and how Cole acquired the songs. Balancing history with reverence, this is a finely educating and entertaining evening.

As an artist, Cole receives a winning tribute from Pizzarelli. The songs are treated with reverence but explored anew. The intelligence and musicality of the songs are heaven sent in the hands of this artistic trio—even in silly songs. The trio leans in with Karn’s plucky bass, Paskudzki’s precise piano, and Pizzarelli’s lucidity luminous. Their phenomenal virtuosity on display is highly entertaining and engaging. And it’s a blessing to hear classics like “Route 66”, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and “Paper Moon” in the hands of musicians who treat them with respect and bring out new nuances lyrically and musically.


John Pizzarelli Trio. Through May 11 at The Café Carlyle (in the Carlyle Hotel at 35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue).


Photos: David Andrako