Review by Brad Walseth
It's easy to focus in on the jazz scenes in Chicago, New York and New Orleans, but there are also some great jazz players out on the West Coast. John Pisano is one of these western jazzers whose presence graces the Los Angeles area. One of the top sessions players for many years, Pisano has played with everyone from Tony Bennett, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Buddy DeFranco, Frank Sinatra to Barry Manilow and Diana Krall, and he may be most well known as the guitarist who replaced Jim Hall in Chico Hamilton's famous quintet in the late '50s. Pisano has played on thousands of session dates and was the guitarist for Herb Albert's Tijuana Brass as well as Sergio Mendes' Brazil '66. The guitar player is also known for his duet albums with Billy Bean and Joe Pass (including the famous "For Django"), yet his humble nature and willingness to stick to rhythm guitar support have left him somewhat unknown to the general public.
With the release of this double album set - John Pisano's Guitar Night the guitarist's low profile status may all change, as his talents are amply in display in this recording of live sets with various other guitar artists. Since 1997, Pisano has been hosting a weekly get-together at a nightclub in the L.A. area (currently Spazio) featuring a different guitarist every week in a (mostly) duet setting backed by bass and drums. The first piece on the album is a recording from the very first Guitar Night and, in typical humble fashion, Pisano gives it to the legendary guitar master George Van Eps who performs "I'll Never Be the Same" solo with just bass backing. Other guitarists included range from: the late great Herb Ellis; well respected artists like Joe Dorio, Ted Greene and Corey Christiansen; somewhat lesser known names (deserving of recognition) like Barry Zweig, Frank Potenza, and Pat Kelley, and up-and coming stars in the making like Anthony Wilson, Peter Bernstein, Scott Henderson and Larry Koonse. These artists perform in various tandems or solo, often, but not always with host Pisano, and the result is nearly ten years worth of jazz guitar highlights.
The song list contains plenty of familiar standards like "When Sunny Gets Blue," "Falling in Love with Love," "and "Autumn Leaves," but also explores harder edged pieces like "'Round Midnight' and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." Herb Ellis provides an original blues, and Pat Kelley adds his original "Minor 6th Sense." And there are some surprising choices as well: Earl Hines' "Rosetta," Denzil Best's "Wee," and Benny Golson's "Whisper Not" all enchant and remind us what a great era of songwriting the last century was. The playing by all parties (including the supportive rhythm sections) is first rate and generally tends to stay within the classic jazz standard format, with each player adding his own nuances - the one exception being Scott Henderson's edgy, fusion-esque, effected guitar work on "Footprints." But rather than singling out any one player, I would suggest you simply listen and allow each guitarist to shine in turn. With "John Pisano's Guitar Night" Mel Bay records has done it again, as this is a true delight for people who enjoy listening to jazz guitar as well as for those who play it. Pisano should be commended for keeping the tradition alive, and I can only say I can readily understand why Spazio is a full house (including many famous guitar players in the audience) on Tuesday nights.