Recap: With John Pizzarelli, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s ‘McCartney and More’ is much, much more

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

John Pizzarelli does a wicked Paul McCartney impression from the mannerisms and cadence to the Liverpool accent.

“If you’re going to do Paul McCartney, you’ve got to do Paul McCartney,” Pizzarelli explains.

As good as it is, the singer and guitarist does an even better job playing McCartney’s music.

The Grand Rapids Pops opened its 2018-19 Fox Motors Pops on Friday, Sept. 21, with “McCartney and More” featuring songs by the Beatles plus McCartney’s post-Beatles catalog led by Pizzarelli and his quartet plus the Grand Rapids Symphony.

The concert led by Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, and again at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23. Tickets, beginning at $18 adults and $5 students, are available at the door.

If you love Paul McCartney’s songs, you’ll love this show.

Moments after he took the stage on Friday, Pizzarelli summed up the night’s playlist in one sentence:

“You’ll know all of them,” he said.

If you love jazz guitar, you’ll also love this show. Pizzarelli, son of the legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, is his father’s equal in every respect.

Best of all the, “McCartney and More” is more than meets the ear or eye. Not only does it have McCartney’s stamp of approval, it was his idea. After Pizzarelli recorded the2012 album “Kisses on the Bottom” with the former Beatle, Sir Paul himself suggested that Pizzarelli record McCartney’s songs in the jazzy style of the Great American Songbook. The result was the album “Midnight McCartney,” a title that Sir Paul also coined.

McCartney got it right in asking Pizzarelli to do the project. The material is cleverly constructed. Pizzarelli pairs The Beatles’  “Can’t Buy Me Love” with an accompanying riff from Woody Herman’s “Woodchopper’s Ball.” You can hear hints of Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” in “I Feel Fine,” and “Things We Said Today” echoes Van Morrison’s “Moondance.”

Pizzarelli croons beautifully on songs such as “My Love Does It Good.” When he scat sings and plays in unison, it’s awesome.

Pizzarelli, who appeared with McCartney on TV live for the Grammy Awards, is more of a guitarist than a singer. Songs such as “Get Back” were snappy and funky at the same time. “The Long and Winding Road” was lovingly accompanied by the Grand Rapids Symphony.

One of the best songs of the night for orchestra was “Heart of the Country,” probably the least known songs on the show that also included “And I Love Her” and “No More Lonely Nights.”

“Let ‘Em In” made for a great finale, though the encore, “With A Little Luck,” wasn’t to be missed.

Pizzarelli great stories of being in the studio with Paul McCartney

In the early days of recording in Abby Roads, John Lennon and McCartney wrote the songs and then had to teach them, in a hurry, to George Harrison and Ringo Starr in the studio and record four songs in three hours.

When the Beatles did the first take of “And I Love Her,” George Harrison suddenly kicked it off with a four-note intro on acoustic guitar.

“Nobody told George to do it,” Pizzarelli recalled McCartney saying. “He just did it.”

Several years ago, when Pizzarelli met McCartney for the very first time, Sir Pau immediately mentioned Pizzarelli’s 1998 tribute album, “John Pizzarelli Meets the Beatles.”

“You made a Beatles CD,” McCartney said to Pizzarelli, before pausing for a moment.”

“It’s very good,” Sir Paul added, to Pizzarelli’s relief.

The same goes for “McCartney and More” with the Grand Rapids Symphony. It’s very good.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 12:00 PM
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