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by Randy Rice
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey are the epitome of the sophisticated urbane couple; a modern day, musical, William Powell and Myna Loy.
Pizzarelli has had a multi-faceted career as a jazz guitarist, vocalist and bandleader. He has recorded nearly an album a year for the past twenty years. He frequently appears with his trio or quartet and often with his father, legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. He recently released ‘With a Song in My Heart', a tribute to Richard Rodgers.
Molaskey began her Broadway career nearly 30 years ago in a revival of Oklahoma! and most recently appeared in the 2008 Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George. In between she appeared in another 10 or so Broadway productions along with numerous U.S. tours. In September 2008, Molaskey released her 5th solo album, ‘A Kiss to Build a Dream On'.
For the past three years the couple has hosted a weekly radio show from their "Deluxe living room high atop Lexington Avenue" in New York City. The show has a focus on "The Great American Songbook". Guests from across the musical spectrum are invited into their "Deluxe Living Room" for a relaxed, freewheeling chat. Recent guests include David Hyde Pierce, Curtis Stigers, Bebe Neuwirth and Liza Minnelli.
The un-scripted feel of their show is no accident. A conversation with the couple can take twists and turns as every story reminds the other of another story they want to share. They each possess an encyclopedic knowledge of music. John can call up arcane trivia about nearly any 20th century performer or composer. Jessica is a walking Broadway database. The couple has been married for 11 years and frequently performs together. On their show and in life, they frequently finish each other's thoughts and sentences.
BroadwayWorld.com was recently invited to sit in on a taping of "Radio Deluxe".
Lounge singer Richard Cheese and his accompanist Bobby Ricotta were the guests. (John and Jessica's daughter Madeline also sat in and declared it one of her favorite shows, yet.)
After the show John and Jessica sat down to talk about their careers, radio program and their plans to record an episode of Radio Deluxe during the 2009 Tanglewood Jazz Festival, which takes place in Lenox, MA over Labor Day weekend.
Randy Rice: I know that the two of you were in a Broadway production together.
Is that where you met?
John Pizzarelli: It is. We met during the production of Dream.
Jessica Molaskey: It was a tribute to Johnny Mercer, and a rather chaotic production. John and his trio were in it and seemed to know what they were doing. I thought "I should hitch myself to them".
John: In the show, Jessica was singing this beautiful arrangement of "Skylark". I told the director that she should be singing with us. She did.
Jessica: And the rest, as they say, is history.
Randy: Jessica, you are, pretty much, a Broadway gypsy, right?
Jessica: I am not sure I would call myself a "gypsy". I am a performer who has been lucky enough to perform in a lot of Broadway shows. I was in Cats. Perhaps, if being in Cats makes you a "gypsy", I am one. I have been working as a solo artist for the past few years, often with John, as well as getting back to Broadway when possible; most recently in last year's production of Sunday in the Park with George.
When I first came to Broadway, there was a way things worked. You worked in the chorus, worked your way up and eventually you got a lead. That changed somewhere along the line. Performers who had never stepped on a Broadway stage where being given the leads roles. I distinctly remember telling a colleague that I was going to have to go somewhere else, become famous, and then return.
Randy: Was it hard to make the transition from acting in a book musical to performing without a character?
Jessica: Oh my God! It was absolutely terrifying at first. Then I became comfortable performing each song as a story. I worked to find the character that is singing, and that made it easier. Working with John also makes it easier, because I know he has my back.
Randy: Jessica, after singing as a character for the first couple of decades, you have been singing in your own "voice" for the past 10 years. Who are your musical influences?
Jessica: My mom was in radio while I was growing up and we had all of these records around the house. I remember listening to Blossom Dearie and Peggy Lee records over and over again.
Randy: Both of you are prolific recording artists. Jessica, you have released
5 solo jazz standards albums in the past 7 years. John, you seem to release a disc a year. How do you do it?
John: We are very lucky. Most of my "singing" is done on the Telarc label and they are great to work with. I also have the freedom to appear as a guest on other artists' records, including Jessica's. We also write music, together and separately.
For years, I wrote really bad pop songs. I had them all in a binder and I remember asking Jessica to look at them. She looked at a song told me to move this word over here, switch that phase around, and then the song would work. I told her I wasn't sure, but as soon as she left the room, I made the changes.
Randy: Where did the idea for "Radio Deluxe" come from?
Jessica: John and I had been appearing together for a while.
John: I was working, I think at the Algonquin, and they wanted a "girl singer". We drew up a list of possible singers. All of them would have been great, but Jessica was, obviously, familiar and comfortable on and off stage. Sometimes those lines blur. We, [the trio] can be just about to go on, and my Dad [Bucky Pizzarelli] will say something like "Oh, I forgot to tell you, I accidentally locked your mother out of the house", or something equally as crazy. I thought that there were not a lot of singers that would be comfortable stepping into that family dynamic.
Jessica: On stage, John and I have a comfortable, sometimes funny, report. It isn't necessarily intentional. We were approached by some folks who thought it would translate well into a radio show and it has. We love doing "Radio Deluxe". Radio is such an intimate medium. We get letters and Facebook postings from listeners all over the world. Folks can listen to the show online and there will soon be a podcast that you will be able to download. As a bonus, every week we get to play our friends' records.
John: The focus of our show is "The Great American Songbook". Some folks think that the "Songbook" is in a little box and anything that doesn't fit in that box doesn't belong. I knew that there are a lot of performers who wouldn't necessarily fit in that box, but should be played.
When we started, I certainly didn't think about the show as recording history. But now, when I think that we recorded a show with the great Kenny Rankin, who just died, I think "Wow!" We got Margaret Whiting to sing a bit of "Skylark" when she was on. Everyone was moved to tears. When Liza Minnelli came on, she was so open about her relationship with the legendary Kay Thompson. We don't like to do a lot of prep with our guests on the show, because we want the spontaneity to be real.
Randy: I know that John just got back from a short tour in Japan. How do you deal with each other's tour schedules?
Jessica: Living in New York City certainly helps. There are lots of places for us to work here. There is the Oak Room, Birdland, Feinstein's and the Carlyle. Obviously, our priority is [our daughter] Madeline. If John goes to Japan during the school year, I stay home.
John: For the past few years we have been lucky enough to do a West Coast tour during the summer. That way, we all get to go together.
Randy: Over Labor Day weekend, you will be taping a show at the 2009 Tanglewood
Jazz Festival. Have you recorded a show outside of the "Deluxe Living Room" before?
Jessica: We have. But not like this.
John: We are really excited about the Tanglewood gig. We are planning some really exciting things. We will have guest performers. It is going to be a lot of fun. We aren't going to tell you the details, because we want the spontaneity to be real for the audience as well.
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey (in her Tanglewood debut) will tape their radio program, "Radio Deluxe," at the 2009 Tanglewood Jazz Festival in Lenox MA on Saturday September 5th.
The “Radio Deluxe” from Tangelwood program will feature special guests Bucky Pizzarelli, Aaron Weinstein, Harry Allen, and Kurt Elling. For more information about the 2009 Tanglewood Jazz Festival visit www.tanglewoodjazzfestival.org.
Radio Deluxe is syndicated can be heard on each week on radio stations across North America and online. For more information, visit www.johnpizzarelli.com or www.jessicamolaskey.com.