John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey at the Café Carlyle
By Tulis McCall
Well they did it again – only better. John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey have returned to Café Carlyle with their 10th annual fall show, this year titled The Arc Of A Love Affair. Pizzarelli and Molaskey grow better with the years. Life and love have mixed together and burnished them like fine pieces of copper. Their humor grows lighter and their depth more profound with every year. Simplicity, elegance, style and grace are the hallmark of this pair. In addition, without saying it directly, the two have introduced politics.
They opened the show with the recently penned (on November 9, 2016 – ring a bell?) Hope by Jason Robert Brown.
I come to sing a song about hope.
I’m not inspired much right now, but even so,
I came out here to sing a song. So here I go
Fear never wins.
That’s what I hope.
See? I said “hope.”
The work begins.
This put me over the edge with tears floating down my cheeks. They did not comment on the song as it speaks for itself. Instead they slid neatly into the content of the evening which was all about relationships. Accompanied by the extraordinary duo of Konrad Paszkudzki on piano and Jay Leonhart on bass, Pizzarelli and Molaskey guided us through a smooth swinging evening.
Their voices intertwine brilliantly in Sondheim’s You Could Drive A Person Crazy. Molaskey again took the lead with Help Me by Joni Mitchell and for the second time in the evening we heard her singular and pure vocal work. She makes those arching trails of soprano elegance seem easy.
Slappin’ The Cakes On Me is nearly a nonsense song of seduction written by Stan Frishberg featuring Pizzarelli’s extraordinary story telling skills and Molaskey’s cameo as a deep throated seductress. This was also the song that their son requested be sung for his Pre-K class…
They reminisced about their 10 years at the Carlyle (20 years together) – 3 elections, one hurricane and the stock market crash of 2008 – and mentioned that this is a “difficult time”. Their daughter has grown from a 10-year-old to a college student. Their son is now 25.
Look To The Rainbow (Burton Lane and Yip Harburg) and I Have Dreamed (Rodgers and Hammerstein) seamlessly intertwine and again features Molaskey at the center who leads us down the rainbow’s path. Pizzarelli underscores the love and hope and adds some deep-seated affection of his own, turning the latter into a Bossa Nova.
Perdido is one of those songs that you recognize when you hear it – but you cannot remember the lyrics except that one word. Molaskey sings a pared down version (she created the vocalese as a tribute to Lambert Hendricks and Ross) that reveals the skeleton of this song as a fully formed being. And the added scat singing by Leonhart serves as an excellent enhancement.
A Case of You (Joni Mitchell) is, in the hands of Molaskey, a stark and lonely tale that goes directly to your heart, skipping the brain entirely. You have no defense against it because it pulls you in before you can think twice. How a person could drink a case of another person becomes a perfect and clear fact. And a shattering event
Some patter about age and how it all works – decades between Leonart and Pizzarelli and more between Pizzarelli and Paszkudzki. This leads to the sweet and hopeful instrumental Brotherhood of Man (Frank Loesser) with the three generations kicking some serious butt. Where is there a dance floor when you need it?
You’ve Got To He Carefully Taught (Rodgers and Hammerstein from South Pacific) for me was another nod to the circumstances in which we are living. Pizzarelli sings with simplicity and sincerity, and hands us the song in a basket of gold.
Molaskey performs a tribute to Leonard Cohen – Everybody Knows – a bleaker salute to our times with a haunting solo by Leonhart.
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
This Must Be The Place/Two Of Us (David Byrne of Talking Heads/Lennon and McCartney) takes us by the hand and walks a fall path where we can smell the burning leaves that once were. It is a duet of possibility and familial love and tenderness and Home. It is about hope – which is where the evening started.
I Want To Be Happy does exactly what is intended. It lifts us up to a summit. Paszkudzki takes a masterful turn that nearly catapults us out of our seats, followed by Leonhart who makes that bass SING.
Rather than leave the stage, they perform their encore the way a lot of people are doing these days. Instead of leaving the stage, they announce their encore. The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise (Les Paul and Mary Ford) – another anthem for hope and possibility.
As always, the Café Carlyle reminds you of why New York is a glorious place in which to dwell. And in times like these, it is a reassuring location. It has been there since 1955 (with the original murals by Marcel Vertès). It has survived elections, assassinations, winter storms and summer heat waves. It is a home for wayward folks who need reassuring. For folks who have life to celebrate. For anyone who wants to step into a shrine of sorts and leave the world outside. It is a place where your batteries are recharged and the idea that “the difficult I can do right now, the impossible will take a little while” is given it’s proper place – in your own driver’s seat. It is a temple and a treasure. Pizzarelli and Molaskey are the perfect residents.
Give yourself the gift this season. You deserve it.
Performances will take place Tuesday – Friday at 8:45pm; and Saturday at 8:45pm & 10:45pm. Reservations made by phone at 212.744.1600 are $110 ($160 for premium seating, $75 for bar seating) Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday late show (November 26 only); $135 ($185 for premium seating, $85 for bar seating) on Friday and Saturday. Reservations can also made online via Ticketweb. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue).