1. In a Mellow Tone
2. East St. Louis Toodle-oo/Don't Get Around Much Anymore
3. Satin Doll
4. C Jam Blues
6. Just Squeeze Me
8. All Too Soon
9. I'm Beginning to See the Light
10. Love Scene
11. I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good
12. Cottontail/Rockin' in Rhythm
John Pizzarelli - Guitar, vocals
Martin Pizzarelli - Bass
Tony Tedesco - Drums
Larry Fuller - Piano
Tony Kadleck - Trumpet
John Mosca - Trombone, alto horn
Andy Fusco - Alto sax, clarinet
Kenny Berger - Baritone sax, bass clarinet
Harry Allen - Tenor sax
Kurt Elling, Jessica Molaskey - Vocals
Bucky Pizzarelli - Electric and acoustic rhythm guitar
Aaron Weinstein - Violin
John Pizzarelli has one of the most user-friendly voices in jazz: friendly, easy-going and warm. Here he pays tribute to Duke Ellington - although, as a vocalist, John is mainly singing lyrics written by other people to fit Duke's tunes. Nonetheless this is a tasty album from start to finish, featuring not only John''s likeable voice but his very skilful guitar playing.
There have been many recorded tributes to Ellington, so there is a danger of the songs becoming over-familiar, but the arrangements ensure that every item comes up fresh and sparkling. Don Sebesky arranged the items for septet, and John Pizzarelli did the quartet charts. Sebesky is usually known as a big-band arranger but he supplies some excellent ideas for this smallish group. For instance, In a Mellow Tone opens with Pizzarelli's voice backed simply by two clarinets. Then John scats over the ensemble and pianist Larry Fuller (who is a star throughout) takes a flighty solo. John does his scat-and-guitar unison bit, which swings unstoppably. John's brother Martin starts a bass solo and is soon joined by piano and guitar before the rest of the group comes in for a flag-waving finish, sounding as powerful as a big band. And that's just the opening track.
The second track is equally adventurous, achieving the almost-impossible task of blending the 1920s' East St Louis Toodle-oo with 1940s' Don't Get Around Much Anymore. The lyrics of Satin Doll continue to escape my comprehension, even though they were written by the notably literate Johnny Mercer. But the tune offers John's father, Bucky, the chance for a tidy guitar solo.
C Jam Blues is given a swinging send-off by Larry Fuller, after which Harry Allen guests on tenor sax, managing to sound rather like Ellingtonian Paul Gonsalves. Aaron Weinstein's gritty violin solo is reminiscent of another instrumentalist: Stuff Smith. Weinstein is also featured in Solitude (mis-named on the sleeve In My Solitude), where John Pizzarelli's vocal is tender-hearted. Just Squeeze Me highlights John's guitar.
John's wife, Jessica Molaskey, wrote some words to go with Perdido, which she sings with her husband and Kurt Elling in vocalese style. All Too Soon is given a Shearing sound from piano and guitar, and John delivers the touching lyrics with feeling. Love Scene is an Ellington song which should be widely known, although the Duke only recorded it at a 1965 session with the Boston Pops Orchestra. More than 20 years later, John Pizzarelli was enchanted when he heard Tony Bennett singing it - and it is certainly a very catchy number.
Harry Allen and Bucky Pizzarelli guest again on the appealing ballad I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good. The CD finishes by putting together Cottontail and Rockin' in Rhythm, which make a lively pair to close. Rockin' in Rhythm has a neat piano solo and a conversation between guitar and clarinet preceding a stomping ensemble which returns us to Cottontail.
John Pizzarelli says that, after a take of C Jam Blues, arranger Don Sebesky said that the band should "thank Pizzarelli for getting us all together to play Duke Ellington". I am decidedly grateful.