Cole’s presence is felt in Shearing-Pizzarelli pairing
The capacity of jazz to reach easily across generations was on full display Sunday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
Working on the same bill, independently with their own groups and together as a team, were pianist George Shearing, 83, and guitarist-singer Johnny Pizzarelli, 42. Despite the difference in age, they performed with the empathetic ease of players who share a mutual, and timeless, musical perspective.
The too-brief segment in which Pizzarelli joined the Shearing quintet featured several songs from the pianist’s just-released album, “The Rare Delight of You.” The album is packaged with a cover obviously intended to resemble an earlier Shearing collaboration, the 1961 LP “Nat King Cole Sings, George Shearing Plays,” and both the newer recording and the Cerritos performance called up memories of the now-legendary Cole-Shearing collaboration. Brightly rhythmic on Bobby Troupe’s “Lemon Twist,” performed with the full Shearing quintet, Pizzarelli shifted into a laid-back, Cole-like lyricism in a mesmerizing version of the once-popular, now sadly neglected Emil Newman-Edgar DeLange ballad, “Lost April.”
Like Cole, Pizzarelli is a singing instrumentalist whose vocals are deeply invested with the facile phrasing and sophisticated musicality of an artist who has spent many years mastering both the complexities and the subtleties of his instrument. Fronting his own trio (with brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass and Ray Kennedy on piano) he performed buoyant renderings of standards such as “Something to Remember You By,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and, especially, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” delivered the same sort of jazz essentials wrapped in a package of swinging rhythms present in Cole’s best work. And, on a high speed, catch-me-if-you-can romp through “I Got Rhythm, Pizzarelli’s scat singing, delivered in unison with his improvised guitar line, set an incomparably high standard of entertaining inventiveness, a stunning display of what good scatting is really all about.
Shearing’s recent outings echo the sound of his earliest ensemble of the late ‘40s and ‘50s -- a velvety blend of piano, guitar and vibes with bass and drum accompaniment. His brief set -- which featured a pair of bop classics, “Donna Lee” and “Subconscious-Lee,” as well as his own “Lullaby of Birdland” -- was an appealing musical reminiscence of a classic bebop era.