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Crooner John Pizzarelli salutes Sinatra with charm and style

Saturday, January 2, 2010; C04

"All of these songs are associated with Frank Sinatra, the other great Italian singer from New Jersey," John Pizzarelli quipped at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on New Year's Eve. Of course, Pizzarelli later acknowledged that the two crooners don't sound anything alike -- he's a piccolo to Sinatra's cello -- but no matter. With his charm, wit and quick-fingered seven-string guitar work, Pizzarelli saluted Ol' Blue Eyes with a winning mixture of affection, humor and awe. A cool yule, to be sure.

Fronting his brassy Swing 7 ensemble, Pizzarelli arrived with a batch of appealing arrangements that evoked a wide variety of moods, from an intimate, voice-and-guitar recital of the seldom heard "It's Sunday" to a romping, all-stops-out version of "After You've Gone." Besides evoking Sinatra's affinity for gliding, Count Basie-tailored propulsion, thanks to contributions by Don Sebesky and other gifted arrangers, the early show quietly referenced the singer's "saloon" songs, including a soulful rendition of "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)." While other performances were distinguished by Pizzarelli's seven-string virtuosity and his flair for scatting at a breakneck tempo, there was ample room for his ensemble to shine, both in rhythmically smooth and harmonically sophisticated settings.

There were plenty of amusing anecdotes, too, involving Cy Coleman, Jule Styne and other great tunesmiths, along with Pizzarelli's recollections of touring with Sinatra in the early '90s. When the two performers first met, Pizzarelli recalled, Sinatra looked him up and down before offering five words of blunt advice: "Eat something, you look bad."

-- Mike Joyce

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