SINATRA WAS SKEPTICAL, NIXON NOT
John Pizzarelli’s first encounter with Frank Sinatra, in 1993, was not what you’d call auspicious. “I met him in Berlin the second night of a tour for which I was the opening act,” says the guitarist-vocalist-composer. “I shook his hand and just as I was walking away, he said, ‘Eat something, kid. You look bad.’ ”
But things began looking up. A few months later, at the end of a four-night stint at a theater in Aurora, Ill., where Pizzarelli, 35, again opened for Sinatra, the younger musician headed off the stage, screwed up his courage and said, “Hi, Frank.” The Chairman nodded his approval. ” ‘Mah-velous, mah-velous. We’ll see you again, sometime.’ I can still hear him saying that,” says Pizzarelli, whose new CD After Hours (Novus/RCA), was partly inspired by the “saloon singer” portions of Sinatra’s show.
Musical mah-velousness runs in Pizzarelli’s family. The son of celebrated jazz guitarist Bucky, John got his first music lessons from his great-uncles Peter and Bob Dominick, who had played with singer-organist-pianist Joe Mooney in the 1950s. “I began on the banjo at 6, played guitar at 12 and entertained thoughts of being Billy Joel or Peter Frampton,” says Pizzarelli, who grew up in Saddle River, N.J., the third of four children. At 20, he began playing with his father, an association that lasted 10 years and included a gig at the home of their Saddle River neighbor Richard M. Nixon. “He was very appreciative,” recalls John, who now works with another Pizzarelli: his bass-playing brother Martin, 32.
Divorced and the father of a 4½-year-old son, also named John, Pizzarelli lives in a mid-town Manhattan apartment, where he keeps a prized picture of one of his heroes, Zoot Sims. “What Zoot, Count Basie, Nat King Cole and my father have in common is their great love of music,” says Pizzarelli. “There’s no marketing plan behind those guys, just a love of what they do.”