“For Centennial Reasons,” the title of John Pizzarelli’s just-out album marking 100 years since Nat King Cole’s birth, is somewhat of a misnomer. His motive for the recording, the 59-year-old Grammy-nominated entertainer admits, is more personal.
“I’ve used him as a foundation for everything I’ve done,” says Pizzarelli, whose national-touring salute to the jazz legend, featuring his hero’s greatest hits and some new Cole-inspired songs, come to Port Washington’s Landmark on Main Street Friday.
Pizzarelli’s passion for the iconic crooner was initially rooted in the fact that Cole's tunes looked beyond the romantic. “They were the perfect stepping-off point for where I was,” he says about Cole classics like “Route 66” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” songs he performed early in his career on gigs with his father, master guitarist “Bucky” Pizzarelli. “The lyrics didn’t have so much emotional weight. For a 20-year-old, they were easier to identify with.”
"For Centennial Reasons" (Ghostlight Records) is the third in Pizzarelli's trilogy devoted to his idol. The album also brought Pizzarelli back to the guitar-bass-piano trio format Nat King Cole originated. Complementing Pizzarelli’s nod to the jazz innovator at Landmark will be the nimble-fingered displays of double-bassist Mike Karn and pianist Konrad Paszkudzki.
Pizzarelli has also been lucky with his own accompaniments, collaborating with such superstars as Rosemary Clooney, James Taylor and Kristin Chenoweth. In 1996, he even got to work with his idol’s daughter, Natalie Cole, playing guitar on five cuts of her popular album “Stardust.”
“We were in the studio about to record ‘Pick Yourself Up,’ and she said, ‘Let’s hear Daddy’s first,’ ” he recalls. “It was incredible watching her listening to her father.”
While Natalie sang alongside her famous father as a young girl (and in their posthumous smash hit duo “Unforgettable”), Pizzarelli reports he and his wife, actress and vocalist Jessica Molaskey, had to actually pay to get into a New York City club to hear their daughter Maddie, an emerging singer-songwriter, first perform.
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Pizzarelli’s own songwriting talents are evident in his Nat King Cole tribute. In “Nat King Cool,” an homage to the Cole Trio’s instrumental classics, he imposes a new melody over the chords of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Another original, “A Hundred Years From Now,” declares Pizzarelli’s enduring affection for the legendary jazz artist, echoing the scats and coos — or rather the “flip-flops on the be-bops” and “razzmatazz” — of Cole’s early releases.
"After all this time, I can slow down and savor it,” says Pizzarelli of some of the Cole standards he’s revisited since recording his first album in 1983. “These songs never get old.”
WHAT "John Pizzarelli: A Centennial Celebration of Nat King Cole"
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, Landmark on Main Street, 232 Main St. Port Washington
INFO $50-$70; 516-767-6444, landmarkonmainstreet.org