John Pizzarelli will be bringing his unique jazz stylings to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) on August 27. Known as one of the foremost contemporary interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli puts his signature spin on every song he performs. Pizzarelli spoke with us about his jazz inspirations, what he loves about the Hamptons and playing a seven-string guitar.
In your career, what are a few of the most memorable moments you’ve had?
Playing with Rosemary Clooney, James Taylor and the Boston Pops, and opening for Frank Sinatra, and recording and performing with Paul McCartney.
Your 2015 album was titled Midnight McCartney and was a collection of Paul McCartney songs. What inspired you to reimagine these classic songs?
Well I think the whole thing that I do is a kind of interpretation. I like to find good songs and sing them, and put them into the style of jazz, and hopefully I can translate them into my style. Similarly, if I were a classical violinist, I would like to find the best pieces and play them for people. Sometimes people think that the Great American Songbook—Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter, and that group of people—is the only thing there is. I think there are many good songs. I think the Paul McCartney record is successful because the songs are already great, so you’re able to do them as Bossa Nova, or swing songs. You can’t just take any pop song, and say, “Oh, I’m going to swing it and it’s going to be fantastic.”
You began playing the guitar at six years old, following in your father, Bucky Pizzarelli’s, musical footsteps. Can you tell us more about your jazz influences?
I think the key was that my father led me in the right direction to the artists that he could see that I would enjoy. The big one he pointed me to was Nat King Cole. So when he played all those Nat King Cole records for me, I knew that I was on the right track. It was something that was really attractive to me, and it turned out to be the reason I do what I do.
You use the seven-string guitar. What makes the sound of this instrument unique?
It has a low A string, below q regular guitar, so when you’re playing songs by yourself, the fuller chord has more of a range like a piano, so those bass notes can be played, which don’t exist on a regular guitar. This expands the sound of the chord and the quality of the chord.
What do you enjoy the most about performing live?
The reaction of the people, and seeing how you can change their day, and go, “Okay, I’m going to try and take you on this journey and play songs you didn’t think you would like, or you weren’t expecting to hear, and you’ll have an experience, hopefully.” So that’s always a challenge when you get on a bandstand, and that’s something I really enjoy.
You’ll be at WHBPAC on August 27. What do you enjoy about the Hamptons?
There’s really no place like this part of the world. The beach is so beautiful. I could sit on the beach forever out here. It’s just so magical, and I’m also looking forward to my and my wife’s radio show later this year in the Hamptons called Radio Deluxe. That’s a big part of people’s weekends out here in the Hamptons.
John Pizzarelli will be at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on Saturday, August 27 at 8 p.m. For more information visit whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500.