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“Radio Deluxe” Comes to the Tanglewood Jazz Festival

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Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli play Tanglewood September 5

The New York Times cabaret critic Stephen Holden has flipped his lid for John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, who host Radio Deluxe, which will tape at Ozawa Hall on Saturday, September 5 as part of the Tanglewood Jazz Festival.  “The wittiest, most musically savvy husband-and-wife team in pop-jazz, they transformed the club into a silk-covered magic carpet that floated up and away to screwball heaven,” he wrote when they opened at New York’s legendary Cafe Carlyle last fall. When he saw the couple again this spring at Birdland, he was even more enthralled by them. “I could exhaust my list of superlatives describing how Ms. Molaskey and Mr. Pizzarelli’s musical and comedic repartee sustains an easygoing sophistication that is unmatched in my nightclub experience,” he wrote.

The husband-and-wife team have developed a loyal following in our region, where Radio Deluxe, which brings the American songbook into the 21st century, can be heard on WAMC on Tuesday nights from 8 -10 p.m. (and on Saturdays from 2 - 4 p.m. unless it gets pre-empted by the Metropolitan Opera broadcast.) Rural Intelligence caught up with the peripatetic Pizzarelli, who said he’s jazzed to be coming to Tanglewood.

What’s special about performing at Tanglewood?

It’s an absolutely great setting. You have that beautiful concert hall and then you look out and see all that white wine and pesto. I never get to be part of any of that.  I am always the guy playing, and I look out and think, That would be fun. It’s such a sweet setting. It’s sweet to watch all those people eat, but that’s never us.

Why have I only just discovered your program?

We have only been doing the show for four years, and it sneaks in and out of markets to be honest with you.  People are discovering us and we are discovering them—it’s a mutual discovery system that we’ve been on. 

How did you and Jessica meet?

We met doing a show called Dream which was based on the lyrics of Johnny Mercer. I liked the way she sang. She liked the way I played the guitar.  And the rest is history. We got married and never really performed together. She did Broadway and I did what I did.  When Michael Feinstein opened his room [at New York’s Regency Hotel], they invited me and they asked for Bucky [John’s father] and Jessica too. I didn’t want us to work together—I wanted to stay married. Then they tossed all these other names of cabaret performers—Cybill Shepherd, Lucie Arnaz, Maureen McGovern—it was crazy and I said, Well, if Cybill Shepherd is backstage with me and my father, she’ll go running for the hills the third night. My father can be hilariously volatile. I said to Jessica, You have to do this because you understand the dynamic. We went out there and figured it out, and we became quite successful. So for radio, they basically tried to bottle what we did. People would say it should be a TV show, it should be a ham radio show—it is ham radio in a sense. We turned on the mikes and said, From high atop Lexington Avenue . . . and it just became what it is.

Why Lexington Avenue?

We used to live high atop Lexington Avenue and it became our moniker. I was a fan of old radio broadcasts when they used to say, “From high atop the Paramount Ballroom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. . .” I always thought we should be high atop somewhere.

Rural Intelligence ArtsYou don’t usually have an audience so you play a lot of records. What will you be doing at Tanglewood?

We’re going to have mostly live music. I have my father, Harry Allen on tenor sax, Aaron Weinstein on violin,  my quartet, and Kurt Elling. We’ll interview people—it’s a live living room setting. We have a few nutty Radio Deluxe surprises planned.

You are following in the Tanglewood time slot previously occupied by Marian McPartland of NPR’s Piano Jazz.

I’ve done her show and it is an honor to even be in that position. She’s an icon. We can only hope we have the success with our show that she’s had with hers

Who are your fans?

They’re people of all ages. They’re the radio rats who listen to NPR all the time. They are people who catch us on LIU as they are driving back from the Hamptons. It’s the same cross section of people who come to listen to us live. There are kids who have been introduced to us by their parents, and parents who have been introduced to us by their kids.

There is something so charmingly 1950s about a couple’s show. Do you know of anything else like it?

No. Car Talk  is about as close as I can think of two related people on the radio who are genuinely fun together and there does not seem to be a script.  The only rules we had was that it would not become a Sonny & Cher type of thing.  We wanted it to be genuine.

How has doing Radio Deluxe changed your career?

It’s helped our live gigs in markets like LA, Seattle and Toronto. People want to come out and see who we are.

So are live shows your bread and butter?

I think the bread and butter for any real jazz musician is going out on the road and promoting your CDs. I think I sell most of my CDs on the road. 

You’re a native New Yorker?

I grew up in Saddle River, New Jersey. I’ve lived in New York for almost 20 years.

Rural Intelligence ArtsSo why are you a Red Sox fan?

Because they are the greatest team! I was a Yankees fan until the early 80s and when they hired Billy Martin for the fifth or sixth time, I didn’t want to be rooting for the Yankees anymore.

Is there television in your future?

I have always believed there is a variety show a la Ed Sullivan in the future. I have pitched it and people go yea, yea, yea.  It’s not a Rosie O’Donnell stye show. It’s a host who says, “Here’s an opera singer, here’s a juggler, here’s Van Halen,  and now Lyle Lovett will sing a number with me.” Something like that. I still think that can be done.  How brilliant was Ed Sullivan? He said, “Here’s the Beatles.” That’s all you have to do. I could host that and Jessica could sing. She would be Dinah Shore.

The New York Times raved about your act at New York’s Cafe Carlyle.

The room is so sweet—it’s fantastic.

Do you do a different show for a small room like that compared to a concert hall?

No, we do what we do. Jessica is more comfortable on a large stage. She likes to walk out on a stage in 1,200 seat theater. She used to feel the people were staring at her in the small clubs. I love the clubs because I can see faces. My father has always said, “I like to see faces. Turn the lights up!”  I sometimes forget in large settings that people are listening in the back of the theater.  You can’t immediately sense the response of the crowd in a big theater, and it can throw you off. I’ve gotten much better at that.  In a small theater, people talk back to us. Because of the show and who we are, people feel they can interrupt and say, What do you think you are doing.  They would never do that with Bobby Short.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 08/26/09 at 05:29 PM • Permalink