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Event Review: John Pizzarelli and the Boston Pops Jazz Festival
Symphony Hall, Boston, May 25, 2006
By Matthew S. Robinson
(more articles from this author)
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Artist: John Pizzarelli and the Boston Pops Jazz Festival
Venue: Symphony Hall, Boston ‘
Date: May 25, 2006
Genre: Jazz

With the help of Berklee College of Music ( ) and the New England Jazz Alliance ( ), the Boston Pops kicked off their first ever Jazz Festival at Symphony Hall. Before and after the main performance, students from Berklee performed throughout the Hall as guests explored the history of Jazz in New England through a series of placards detailing the lives and achievements of New England Jazz Hall of Fame members.

When it was time for the show to begin, a trio of screens descended from the ceiling, on which were projected MTV-cut scenes of life in Boston that were accompanied by Pops Laureate Conductor John Williams’ “A Postcard to Boston.”

After this tourist-friendly and somewhat self-congratulatory audio/video montage was done, the Pops launched into Williams’ rearrangements of some of the top songs of the Swing era (entitled, appropriately enough, “Swing, Swing, Swing”) before paying tribute to a true Jazz composer, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton by way of his brass ensemble piece “Black Bottom Stomp.”

Reintroducing the entire orchestra for George Gershwin’s “Prelude No. 2,” conductor Keith Lockhart brought first clarinetist Thomas Martin forward for an impressive run through Artie Shaw’s “Clarinet Concerto” before closing out the set with the international flavors of Duke Ellington’s adopted home town tone poem “Harlem.”

After intermission, Lockhart introduced John Pizzarelli, who charmed and wowed the crowd with his personalized renditions of the Great American songbook and a guitar legacy that traces back to his legendary father, Bucky. Picking up with a speak-sing swing through “Pick Yourself Up” (the guitar break of which included snippets of “Sleigh Ride”), Pizzarelli tantalized the crowd with “My Baby Just Cares for Me” before offering a peppy scratch through “Avalon” that floated on fleet guitar and piano trades. A dreamy “Say It” was accented with projected stars and the musical civics lesson “Rhode Island is Famous for You” was punctuated with regional accents and audience participation.

Offering the now obligatory snippet of “The Wonder of it All” (a.k.a., “The Foxwoods Song”), Pizzarelli got serious again with an Italianate take on the South American ballad “Estate” (some of which got lost in translation) and a lush orchestral arrangement of “Honeysuckle Rose” that ended with a triple-time fret flourish filled with roaring riffs. Though the closing take on “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” seemed a bit out of place, it pleased the younger people in the audience.

As the Berklee students shrieked from the balcony, Pizzarelli beamed, “This is like a Frampton concert!” And it was - as a master guitar player used his hands and his voice to captivate and please a multi-generational crowd of fans who either knew the songs when they first came out or who have been introduced to them by today’s torch bearers. As one of the rare authentic bridges between the two, Pizzarelli was the perfect pick to launch this exciting new program at Symphony Hall and a sign that, with the help of organizations like Berklee, NEJAZZ and the Pops, America’s greatest cultural creation will live on.

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