Grand Rapids Pops Opens 2018-19 Season with ‘McCartney and More’

When one musician records music made famous by another, it could be they’re paying homage to someone they admire. It also could be they’re trying to ride someone else’s coattails.

When jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli sat down to record songs of Paul McCartney, it was neither. The idea for Pizzarelli’s 2015 recording Midnight McCartney came from none other than Sir Paul himself.

Pizzarelli, who is seen regularly on such TV shows as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Conan and Great Performances, has had great success interpreting music made famous by such artists as Frank Sinatra as well as by the Beatles. In 2012, Pizzarelli collaborated with McCartney on his album Kisses on the Bottom and toured with him afterward, appearing with Sir Paul to perform My Valentine on the Grammy Awards.

Two years later, the English singer/songwriter unexpectedly got in touch with the American jazz musician with “this crazy idea to run by you.” The idea was for Pizzarelli to make an album of McCartney’s post- Beatles songs.

“He said if I liked the idea maybe I could call the record Midnight McCartney and include a dishy little picture of me against the Manhattan skyline,” Pizzarelli recalled with a laugh.

It didn’t take much to sell Pizzarelli on the idea.

“He’s a fine musician with amazing musical instincts and has done pretty much everything you could possibly imagine,” Pizzarelli said to Guitar World in August 2015.

Pizzarelli joins the Grand Rapids Symphony for McCartney and More at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday September 21-22 and at 3 p.m. Sunday, September 23, the opening concerts of the 2018-19 Fox Motors Pops series. Guest Artist Sponsor is Carter Products.

Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt leads the Grand Rapids Pops in songs by Paul McCartney, performed in the jazz style of the Great American Songbook by Pizzarelli.

Midnight McCartney includes songs such as particularly lesser known tunes such as Junk, Warm and Beautful and, of course, My Valentine. The New Yorker declared it “may be the best collection of McCartney covers ever recorded.”

“The material is still very good. Paul is such a smart songwriter and these songs are so well written,” Pizzarelli said. “When you have strong hooks and great melodies that are really pliable, you’re able to reinterpret them in an interesting way.”

All describes Midnight McCartney as music that’s “designed for play in the smoky late-night hours, when everything turns sweet and mellow.”

“We were asked to do something special, and I was proud to say, “Here’s what we did with your idea, Mr. McCartney,” Pizzarelli said. “We’re thrilled we were able to do this for you.”

The jazz guitarist and singer, radio host and raconteur, was in town six years ago as St. Cecilia Music Center’s 2012 Great Artist, a concert that also featured his wife, Jessica Molaskey, a Broadway actress and singer, and his father, legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, a longtime member of NBC-TV’s The Tonight Show Band when the show was hosted by Johnny Carson.

In addition to being a solo artist with some 20 recordings of his own, Pizzarelli has been a special guest on more than 40 recordings for such pop artists as James Taylor, Natalie Cole, Kristin Chenoweth and Rickie Lee Jones as well such jazz artists as Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Frigo and Buddy DeFranco. He collaborated with Donna Summer and Robert Flack on the Grammy Award- winning CD, Songs from the Neighborhood: The Music of Mr. Rogers in 2005.

Pizzarelli’s recent recordings include a musical salute to a 1967 recording featuring Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim.