The show was billed as a celebration of Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, all of whom lived in New Jersey for at least part of their lives. But once genial co-headliner John Pizzarelli started, he couldn’t stop, mentioning that one song he performed, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” was written in co-writer Bob Hilliard’s Englewood home, and that the arrangement he used for another, “Witchcraft,” was by Don Sebesky of Mendham.
He and his father, fellow New Jersey guitar master Bucky Pizzarelli, also performed two songs — “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” and an incredibly propulsive “Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me” — in tribute to Mahwah’s Les Paul, and John mentioned that guitarist Ed Laub, who also performed, used to take music lessons right after his time slot at Victor’s House of Music in Ridgewood, and that George Van Eps of Plainfield made the guitars they were using.
The free, outdoor show — which took place at J. Owen Grundy Pier in Jersey City Thursday night, and was blessed with perfect late-summer weather — was conceived as a way to celebrate New Jersey’s 350th birthday, and also included a brief tribute to Oradell-born composer and arranger Nelson Riddle, whose daughter Rosemary was in attendance.
The show was titled “The NJCU Alumni Jazz Big Band Salutes the Other Jersey Boys”; the sharp band, led by New Jersey City University professor Richard Lowenthal, kicked off the show with Miller, Basie and Dorsey material. Then the Pizzarellis, both of whom have ties to Sinatra — Bucky played with him, and John opened shows for him — took the stage with Laub, playing both as a guitar trio and with the big band.
It’s a treat to see John, 54, playing with Bucky, 88 — they both look so delighted to be trading virtuoso riffs with each other. John also showcased his Sinatraesque singing on “You Make Me Feel So Young” and “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” and add some deft scat singing to the show-closing “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.”
These pier concerts are becoming a Jersey City tradition. Trumpeter Jon Faddis played with the big band at one last year, and another show is already being planned for next year. Meanwhile, NJCU will present another NJ350 event Oct. 8: A lecture by historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin.
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