StLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Catherine Russell & John Pizzarelli pay tribute to "Billie & Blue Eyes"


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Today, StLJN's video spotlight shines on singer Catherine Russell and singer and guitarist John Pizzarelli, who are coming to St. Louis to present their show “Billie & Blue Eyes" starting Wednesday, May 22 through Sunday, May 26 at Jazz St. Louis.

Both Russell and Pizzarelli are well-known as headliners in their own right, with Pizzarelli being a particular local favorite thanks to multiple St. Louis appearances over the last couple of decades. They first joined forces last year to create the “Billie & Blue Eyes" show, with the idea of offering their own contemporary interpretations of classic material associated with Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra.

Pizzarelli has included songs associated with Sinatra in his repertoire throughout his career, and even has devoted two albums specifically to paying tribute to him. The first, in 2006, was Dear Mr. Sinatra, for which he was accompanied by The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, followed in 2017 by Sinatra & Jobim @ 50, which contained Pizzarelli's interpretations of songs from the famed 1967 collaboration between Sinatra and Brazilian singer-songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Meanwhile, since starting her solo career Russell has earned a reputation as a top interpreter of vintage jazz material from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, making her something of an expert in the songs and styles Holiday likely would have heard during her formative years. Though many singers have attempted to pay tribute to Holiday over the years, some more successfully that others, few have had the musical roots and specific experience that Russell brings to this project.

Though there's been no album (yet) documenting the collaboration, there are a few videos online from when they toured the presentation in 2018, starting with a promotional clip that explains the concept along with some very brief musical excerpts, which you can see up above.

There's a clip from one of their 2018 dates showing Russell and Pizzarelli performing “I Thought About You."

That's followed by a video from 2017 of Pizzarelli performing “Baubles, Bangles and Beads," as recorded for the Sinatra & Jobim @50 album.

That's followed by a version of “All of Me," also from last year's “Bilie & Blue Eyes" tour.

Next up is a song recorded by Pizzarelli for his latest album For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole, a version of “Straighten Up And Fly Right" in which he's accompanied by the members of his current working trio, Mike Karn on bass and Konrad Paszkudzki on piano.

After that, you can see Russell in the studios last month at radio station KNKX in Tacoma, WA, singing “You Can’t Pull the Wool Over My Eyes," a song included on her latest album Alone Together, which came out in March.

The final video showcases Pizzarelli doing another number from his Nat Cole tribute album, the venerable standard “Route 66."

For more about the “Billie & Blue Eyes" project, read the interview that Russell did last year with the Santa Fe New Mexican, and this brief review of a concert performance last year in Brooklyn.

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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