“He’s the reason I do what I do,” says John Pizzarelli of the legendary Nat King Cole. The moment his father, the master guitarist “Bucky” Pizzarelli, introduced him to the jazz giant’s satiny voice and bar-none piano playing, he knew he wanted a musical career.
Easy on the ear like his smooth-singing idol, Pizzarelli returns to Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts Saturday night serving up some of Cole’s greatest tunes along with other jazz and American Songbook favorites in “Holiday Hits and More” with his wife, Broadway actress and singer Jessica Molaskey.
“Jessica always says, ‘It’s 52nd Street meets 42nd Street,’ ” laughs Pizzarelli, describing their collaboration and repertoire. In fact, the duo first met somewhere in-between, at the former Royale Theatre on West 45th Street as performers in the 1997 musical revue “Dream,” based on the songs of Tin Pan Alley lyricist and composer Johnny Mercer.
Today Pizzarrelli and Molaskey — aka the “Astaire and Rogers of the cabaret world,” as dubbed by Time Magazine — are more likely to be seen together in the intimate lounge of New York City’s venerable Cafe Carlyle. The pair has just wrapped up what has become an annual stint performing their entertaining mix of old-school standards by the likes of Frank Sinatra along with covers of newer classics by Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell.
At the Staller Center, the husband-and-wife team will be joined by the Swing 7 band, a group of New York musicians that has accompanied them live and on recordings over the years. Audience members, too, get to be part of the act. A highlight of the evening’s program is when the singers divide the audience into 12 sections, assigning each one a gift to recite in the cumulative holiday carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” “It’s one big singalong,” says Pizzarelli. Also adding to the holiday flavor will be their jazz rendition of “Sleigh Ride,” the 1948 hit by Leroy Anderson made famous by the Boston Pops Orchestra.
For more of Pizzarelli and Molaskey’s engaging banter and songbook standards, fans can tune into “Radio Deluxe,” the 40-plus city syndicated show co-hosted by the crooning couple. Broadcast from their New York City apartment living room, the program has featured such drop-in guests as Steve Tyrell, Liza Minnelli, Tony Danza and, of course, Bucky Pizzarelli.
Though it’s been some time since his dad introduced him to the music of Cole, Pizzarelli’s admiration for the crooner hasn’t at all waned. Saturday night’s audience can expect to cozy up to “chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” as “The Christmas Song” goes, and look forward to Pizzarelli’s centennial concert tribute to his hero in 2019.
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, Staller Center for the Arts, Stony Brook University
INFO $46; 631-632-2787, stallercenter.com
Trio makes a return
WHAT Demonstrating that seasonal delights extend beyond the warmer months on the East End, the Neave Trio returns to St. Luke’s Hoie Hall. Internationally acclaimed chamber musicians Anna Williams, Mikhail Veselov and Eri Nakamura present a varied concert program, ranging from “Trio in G major,” a little-known masterwork written by an 18-year-old Claude Debussy, to “Estaciones Porteñas,” a set of four compositions by Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Recordings of works by both artists, among others, are included in Neave’s selected repertoire on two albums slated for 2018 release.
WHEN | WHERE 5 p.m. Saturday, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 18 James Lane, East Hampton
INFO $20, free ages 18 and younger; 631-329-0990, stlukeseasthampton.org