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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 13, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 33
Jazz Alley brings an impressive roster of talent to Seattle
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Jazz Alley brings an impressive roster of talent to Seattle

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle's Jazz Alley is considered one of the top jazz spots in the U.S. The large, elegant club changes its format and its feel with great frequency. Last week, John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, a husband-and-wife duo off stage, brought their New York cabaret act to The Alley, turning the club into a stylish, intimate Big Apple cabaret. This weekend, The Kevin Eubanks Band turns the club back into a big jazz band hotspot as the award-winning jazz guitarist and the former musical director of The Tonight Show brings his popular group back to The Alley.

Next Monday night, The Alley becomes a free attraction as the Amina Figarova Sextet makes its Jazz Alley debut. Two free shows are offered - when the early show sold out, The Alley and Figarova added a 10 p.m. show to accommodate the crowds. Figarova is a jazz pianist and composer who comes with high expectations. "Free" is a big draw in these uncertain financial times - add in The Alley's free parking, great service, and reasonable prices, and it's a "don't miss" night for Emerald City music fans. (Reservations are required - details below.)

Shemekia Copeland, powerhouse blues vocalist, will rock the club with an August 19-22 stay. The Stanley Jordon Trio arrives for a September 2-5 stay, and Dr. John and the Lower 911 bring a taste of New Orleans jazz - billed as "funky swamp rock" - to the Emerald City during his September 7-12 visit. Another free event - the September 13 exchange visit of the 2010 Vocal Queen from Kobe, Japan - is a "must" for budget-minded jazz fans. This annual event spotlighting jazz artists from the Sister Cities of Seattle and Kobe showcases Kobe's jazz winner. This scribe was honored to be a judge in the Seattle competition early last spring. Two Seattle winners - one in the student division and one in the professional/adult group - will visit Kobe for a jazz festival as a result of the exchange.

Tower Of Power brings a different feel to The Alley during a September 23-26 visit, and supper club superstar Nancy Wilson brings her sophisticated jazz and Broadway classics for a September 30-October 3 outing. The Jazz Crusaders with Joe Sample will turn the club into a totally different experience during his October 7-10 visit.

With shows six nights a week - with local artists often headlining on Monday, making seven nights of music some weeks - Jazz Alley is non-stop music. Many Emerald City music fans check out www.jazzalley.com each week, or join the free e-mail list for weekly updates.

Last week's return of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey brought back a lot of happy memories for the talented duo, as well as their many Seattle fans.

"I played The Alley 18 years ago," he told the near-capacity Sunday-night crowd. "We had more people on stage than in the audience." Over the years, Pizzarelli has become more and more popular - as a single jazz guitarist and singer and as a duo with his wife, Broadway's Jessica Molaskey. "We met during the short Broadway run of Dream - a tribute to the music of Johnny Mercer." It was quips at first sight as the "Broadway Baby" and "The Jazz Guy" clicked, dated, and got married. For this Seattle visit, their 12-year-old daughter joined them. "We had a great day - we love Seattle." The pair decided to stay in Seattle for their "off day" this week - Monday - before flying to Los Angeles to continue their West Coast tour with a Tuesday opening. They took in a ball game ("and got some sun," he enthused), the usual sightseeing excursions, and "some great meals."

The two appear at various cabarets and jazz clubs in New York City, together or alone. "We do a six-week stay at the Café Carlyle each fall," Molaskey said, relaxing after the lengthy show. "It's great to be 'home' in the fall - school's starting for our daughter, both of us are happy to be around. Touring is great, but New York is always best."

As in past Seattle visits, the duo's format featured lengthy duets, often combining unlikely songs, solo selections for each, plus a major solo section for Pizzarelli and his musicians, including his brother, Martin, on bass. Their father - the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli - sometimes tours with John "but not this time."

Jazz Alley billed the duo as "a pop-jazz Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers," a strange choice of references, but there is no doubt that John and Jessica exemplify the oft quoted praise of Hollywood's most popular dancing couple - "He gave her class, and she gave him sex appeal." Their opening number set the stage for their personas. He sang "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing" and she countered with the lesser-known "Nice Girls Don't Stay For Breakfast." A delightful pairing - singers and songs - with wisps of other "dancing" melodies as counterpoint, the number was a knockout way to start the evening.

Their second number, with him vocally asking "Will You Still Be Mine?" and her quiet, meditative "Small World" (from Broadway's Gypsy) reversed the balance of the opening choice. The third pairing - "a meditation on codependency," as John quipped - found "I Want To Be Happy" from Jessica and "Sometimes I Love You, Sometimes I Hate You" from John to be a perfect fit.

The duets continued, each one building delightfully on the previous choices. A wistful Molaskey finally left the stage for a lengthy break as Pizzarelli performed highlights from his new CD, a salute to Duke Ellington called Rockin' In Rhythm. Ellington classics - like "Satin Doll," "In A Mellow Tone," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" - were highlights of the mini-set. After another brief pairing, Pizzarelli took stage center with "I Like Jersey Best," first introduced on a 1983 album, I'm Hip - But Don't Tell My Father. Various impersonations - Paul Simon! Bob Dylan! The Bee Gees! The Beach Boys! Johnny Cash! - carried the lengthy novelty number for many in the cheering crowd.

A final teaming found the pair saluting Les Paul and Mary Ford with a stunning "All The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise." A happy Sunday-night crowd gathered to buy CDs, chat with both artists (and their talented side men), gather autographs and wind up the week. "A good time was had by all" seemed a perfect way to sum up the evening. Jazz Alley is usually a yearly stop for the popular pair. Watch for a 2011 visit about this time next year.

Reservations and complete information on all Jazz Alley shows is available at (206) 441-9729 or at www.jazzalley.com.

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