The New York Times refers to John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey “the Nick and Nora of cabaret.” High praise indeed, as that famous couple (of Thin Man movies fame) provided the template for high–energy spousal cooperation and creativity. To be called Nick and Nora means that you are, in fact, the very best at what you do.
Of course, Pizzarelli, the jazz guitarist, bandleader, vocalist and onstage bon vivant, is no stranger to accolades. He’s the son of jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli, and his renown has even eclipsed that of his famous father.
But when he and his sultry–singing wife – veteran of such Broadway shows as Sunday in the Park With George, Cats and innumerable new and innovative works of musical theater – combine forces, it’s something special indeed.
The swingin’ twosome are bringing cabaret back to the Savannah Music Festival with The Heart of a Saturday Night, over five performances April 4–6 at the Charles H. Morris Center.
It’s the same show that brought Manhattan to its knees over a six–week run at the Cafe Carlyle. Backed by a full band, the couple delivers jazzy interpretations of everything from Gershwin and Berlin to Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” and Tom Waits’ “Drunk on the Moon.”
If the Nick and Nora thing doesn't work for you, think of them as the Louis Prima and Keely Smith of this generation.
“When you’re doing a cabaret show,” says Molaskey, “it’s a little different than doing a set in a nightclub, where you can arbitrarily put songs together and it’ll be fine.
“We just feel that a good song is a good song, and that if we properly set them, everything should have its own chance to shine.”
We spoke briefly with each of these talented musicians; Molaskey was in New York, while Pizzarelli, who gave us his responses via e-mail, was in the middle of a gig in Vienna.
What’s it all about?
Pizzarelli: We never really have a theme; people make them up for us. The time line of the show really just happens. We get our ideas in car rides mostly where the phone has less of a chance to interrupt us.
Molaskey: I like to say that we have musical dialogues with one another, and it’s the juxtaposition of the songs that somehow makes for an evening that has a feeling about something. The Heart of a Saturday Night is about searching, about people going out in to the world and trying to have an experience.
On choosing the songs
Pizzarelli: It’s a mixture between old and new, but we don’t think of it like that. We just mix songs together and not worry about times or styles.
Molaskey: We have such a wealth of material after having performed now year after year, that it’s really quite fun to revisit some of the stuff that we’ve worked so hard at. And we’ve always said ‘If we get in a fight over it, we won’t do it any more,’ but so far, so good.
On one another
Molaskey: John is a consummate professional. I’ve never met an animal like him. When he walks out on the stage, you feel that nothing wrong can happen. It’s really something. I admire him so greatly as a person – moreso than just being an absolutely virtuostic musician, he’s like the last of a dying breed. Like an old Vaudevillian. We’ve had some really wonderful dates on the bandstand.
Pizzarelli: She is the only person I know equally at home in a musical theater setting or a jazz stage. She has great timing, be it a patter song or a ballad. She doesn’t lag. She moves the musical ball forward and she has great taste, sensitivity and panache. Yes, I am biased, but I am right. LOL!
Pizzarelli: He taught me to get to the airport early. I played because they put a tenor banjo in my hands at the age of six and loved The Beatles. When my father played the Nat Cole Trio for me, I was hooked on doing that for a living. There was no turning back.
Musical theater vs. jazz
Molaskey: I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve been able to do both in the last several years. I try to do one play a year, just to keep my chops up. And because it’s really my first love. I like new works. I think the most interesting thing is to sing music that’s never been sung before – making the sound for the first time. I like those kind of rehearsals where nobody knows what something is until you present it.
Savannah Music Festival
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey
Where: Charles H. Morris Center
When: At 7:30 p.m. April 4; 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. April 5 and 6
Note: At press time, several shows were sold out
Tickets and info: savannahmusicfestival.org