We went to hear John Pizzarelli, jazz guitarist and singer, last night. He and his trio performed with the Binghamton Philharmonic, building the evening’s program around a 2006 Pizzarelli CD entitled “Dear Mr. Sinatra.” Thoroughly engaging as a talented guitarist, jazz vocalist, and easy conversationalist, John Pizzarelli’s work and play last night provided me with some ideas for this first post called “Peace, Grace, and Jazz!”

[Please click on the “About…” link at the top of this page to see where we’re headed over the next few months here.]

So many things came together last night. First was the Forum. That is the name of the old downtown theater where Pizzarelli and the Philharmonic were playing. I had sat in that same balcony as a kid, to see the 1959 version of “Ben Hur” on the big wide screen of the movie house once called the Capri. Last night, as the audience awaited the concert master’s entrance, I remembered how, nearly 50 years ago, my friend David Cook had been so taken with “Ben Hur,” and how I had felt so taken in. “It just didn’t live up to all the advertising,” I told him as we left the theater. I was more impressed with the Capri’s new rocking chair seats in the loge, and MGM’s Camera 65 process, as well as the big curved screen that was as close to IMAX as we got back then. David was more pious than I when it came to the film’s story, subtitled “A Tale of the Christ.” Dave became a psychologist. I was more cynical about all the Hollywood hype. And went into the ministry. Go figure.

The concert master entered, the orchestra tuned, the conductor emerged from the wings, and the Philharmonic played “Come Fly With Me,” the title song of a best-selling Sinatra concept album. When it had been released in 1967, my mother had bought it on three or four 45 rpm extended play records. She is the one who brought Sinatra into our home. She had been a “bobby soxer” in her teens, and was a fan of Frank’s until her dying day. In fact, he sang at her funeral. So I had grown up listening to Frank Sinatra’s voice, from his younger Columbia Records days, through the swingin’ Nelson Riddle-arranged Capital years, and into his, pardon the expression, “ring-a-ding-ding” years on his own label, Reprise.

I was in college when Sinatra retired. And when “Old Blue Eyes” came back. And, as I sat there last night listening to John Pizzarelli sing Sinatra songs, I remembered being in Richmond, Va., when someone on the radio announced that Sinatra would be coming to town for a concert. I called Mom and told her that if she’d come up from Raleigh, I’d get the tickets. She was thrilled at the prospect of seeing him again! She went out and bought a new dress for the occasion. Then, just days before the concert, the radio reported that Sinatra was ill and wouldn’t be coming after all. No new concert date was set. And I had to tell my Mom the bad news. I called her. She wasn’t home. One of my sisters took the message. I was heartbroken for both of them. “It Was Just One of Those Things.”

[Almost 20 years later, Sinatra finally made it to Richmond, where he collapsed on stage and was heard to say as he regained consciousness, “Get me out of this hell hole!”]

Pizzarelli and his trio were superb last night. The Philharmonic did its best to “swing,” though full orchestras playing jazz remind me of the dancing hippos in Disney’s “Fantasia.” The instrumental soloists seemed less than hip, a bit too cautious to let loose. But the Sinatra ambiance was unmistakable, from the Don Sebesky charts to the star’s tuxedo, from the great songs that made Sinatra famous, to the songs that Sinatra made into classics.

It was a very appreciative audience. And old. And I’ll have more to write about this in my next entry. Trust me. There is a point to all.

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