Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli March 20, 2015
It was almost like the Performing Arts Center was built for the concert there on Friday night with two of the best musicians ever to stand (or sit) on the stage playing the music of one of the greatest Southern California based musicians ever to sing a sweet note. The truly great pianist Ramsey Lewis and the jazz-master John Pizzarelli make for a perfect pair to express the wonders of the intimate but exhilaratingly expressive Nat King Cole songbook that filled the hall on this evening with really memorable playing. Maestro Lewis has a talent so rare and refined that he can say a lot with little waste as he did for the show opening introduction to “Route 66” that seemed to cover every mile from Kingman to Pasadena. He looked dapper, like he had just came from the barber shop on his way to church but the man’s hands are ageless and when he explored “Hit That Jive Jack” playing the melody with his right hand and accompanying himself with his left the big Steinway & Sons grand piano just connected hearts all over the hall. On the other hand, John Pizzarelli not only played his Moll seven-string guitar like a master but provided the art of witty patter and a knowledge of Nat King Cole-iana that is encyclopedic. This thorough musicologial wisdom allowed the show to rise far above any tribute program by mixing the chosen material between the familiar and beloved like “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Unforgettable” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right” to the delightful, forgotten gems like “Hit That Jive Jack,” “The Best Man,” and “Baby Baby All the Time” that turned out to be the peak performance in an evening of very tall musical mountains. It certainly helped that the masters Lewis and Pizzarelli were ably abetted by the brilliantly inventive Joshua Ramos on bass and rock steady Charles “Rick” Heath on drums with both men keeping the sound pristine and perfect for the understated but perfectly pronounced vocals that Nat King Genius used to croon. Not only did the packed house get to enjoy some of the best playing ever in Cerritos, they left whistling great tunes and learning a lot about the labels, the songwriters, the history of each song and plenty of laughs along the way. This was an experience that would lead any music lover into thanking their lucky stars that they were able to see and hear, in person a true genius of the piano with a master of the jazz guitar while enjoying music that will live until the polar ice caps melt.