Just don't call him the next Harry Connick Jr.

February 26, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

They call him the next Harry Connick Jr. But that doesn't sit well with John Pizzarelli.

"Two young guys with big bands," says the 32-year-old jazz guitarist and singer from New Jersey. "I don't get angry about it. But I honestly think it stops after two young guys singing with big bands. He's doing his own music. I'm more in the tradition of where I came from."

Where Mr. Pizzarelli came from has a lot to do with his success -- seven albums, including two for RCA Records, and opening performances for the Benny Goodman Sextet.

This weekend he comes to Annapolis to showcase his latest album, "Naturally," released this month.

The son of guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli -- who played with Benny Goodman and has backed up Ray Charles and Janis Ian -- the younger Mr. Pizzarelli has been musically inclined since age 7. His famous father and his father's uncles taught him to play the banjo. Growing up, he'd watch his father play with Benny Goodman and Les Paul.

To hear the reviewers tell it, some of that early experience must have sunk in pretty deep.

"Trio and big-band settings suit this contemporary jazz guitarist/vocalist quite well," says a Feb. 20 review in Billboard magazine.

Another compares Mr. Pizzarelli's singing with the "marvelously off-hand" singing of jazz instrumentalists such as Nat King Cole.

"Sometimes John Pizzarelli seems delightfully surprised by what doing as a musician and singer, and it's that sense of delight and enjoyment that comes through at both his performances and on this most enjoyable album, one that manages to combine good, relaxed singing with fine, swinging jazz," George Kanzler wrote Feb. 21 in The (Newark) Sunday Star-Ledger.

Mr. Pizzarelli says he never really appreciated the music he grew up with until his teens, when his father convinced him that his rock guitar skills could transfer to jazz. After graduating from college in 1981, he took Frank Sinatra-style singing jobs where he could get them, alternating small-time gigs with his own trio and big-time gigs with his father.

The first album came in 1983, in which he sang Nat King Cole songs with his father's trio. But it wasn't until 1990, when he recorded "My Blue Heaven," that critics began taking notice and landed a deal with the RCA Novus label.

"That started to really put me on the map," he said.

The RCA albums, "All of Me," and now "Naturally," both feature big band sounds. Hence the comparisons to Harry Connick Jr., whom Mr. Pizzarelli thanks for reintroducing big band music to younger generations.

"I definitely think there are more people our age listening to this music and appreciating it," he says.

Mr. Pizzarelli will play with his trio, including his brother, Martin Pizzarelli, on bass and pianist Mike Capobianco, at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. tonight and tomorrow at the King of France Tavern.

He'll play with his big band at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Governor Calvert House.

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