Molaskey & Pizzarelli Pair Sondheim & Mitchell, Berlin & Larson for New Show

News   Molaskey & Pizzarelli Pair Sondheim & Mitchell, Berlin & Larson for New Show
While mashups are all the rage on TV's "Glee," the Café Carlyle in Manhattan is currently home to a handful of intriguing pairings of songs in Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli's new jazz-inflected cabaret show, The Heart of a Saturday Night.

John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey

Singer-actress Molaskey (A Man of No Importance, Dream True, Sycamore Trees) and her guitarist-vocalist husband Pizzarelli have snagged solid reviews for the new show, playing to Nov. 6. Imbedded in the evening are surprising pairings, including Stephen Sondheim's "You Must Meet My Wife" and Joni Mitchell's "Conversation" (ruminations on marriage) and Irving Berlin's "Count Your Blessings" and Jonathan Larson's "Seasons of Love" (about finding perspective in our present and daily routines).

Molaskey and Pizzarelli have recorded a number of beguiling blendings. How did they get into the habit?

"When John and I were asked to play the bigger cabaret rooms — as opposed to the jazz clubs — I felt that the challenge was to retain the jazz element, which feels very spontaneous and joyful, but make sure that there was something more dramatic going on underneath," Molaskey told in the days following the Oct. 5 launch of their new Café Carlyle show. "So we started exploring the idea of having musical conversations by pairing songs or juxtaposing songs — not like a didactic discussion, but more the sum of the parts might make you feel different things. For instance, John brought up the idea of doing Jon Hendricks' 'Cloudburst' (which has been done a million times really well by jazz artists), so I thought of pairing it with 'Not Getting Married Today' from Company, which then gives you a couples' opposing ideas about the act of getting married as told through the idiomatic voices of jazz vocalese and the quintessential Sondheim patter song."

For that earlier pairing (heard on the album "Make Believe"), Molaskey sat down with Jason Robert Brown and 40 pages of music, and "we worked our way through until it felt like a funny and real discussion both text-wise and music-wise."

Like a pairing of fine wine and cheese, does the process of taste-testing these packages take a lot of time? "Sometimes the ideas just come like magic, as was the case of 'Count Your Blessings'/' Seasons of Love,'" Molaskey said. "We were asked to sing for our friend [Broadway producer] Kevin McCollum, who was being honored for his work with The Actors Fund. John said, 'Let's do something from one of his shows,' and when John started singing about 'counting blessings' from White Christmas, I heard the song from Rent, which Kevin also produced, bubbling up in my brain — the way that number [525,600] is always repeated. I got the music and it just sort of happened. When John started playing it like a Bossa Nova, we just started singing it like it had already been worked out — it is easy to have ideas when you have such an amazing musician right next to you."

Over the years, Molaskey has embraced the work of Joni Mitchell. "The Circle Game" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March" are paired on the Molaskey album "Sitting in Limbo."

Molaskey explained, "I think Joni Mitchell is simply one of the greatest artists of our time, both as a performer and as a writer, and I have spent a lot of time trying to make her songs work outside of her very specific readings of them. The song 'Conversation' has always interested me because I think of it as a song about adultery, which is a rather unique idea to sing about. The idea of the long-suffering 'other woman' listening to Sondheim's laundry list ('You Must Meet My Wife') of the virtues and traps of his marriage seemed interesting to me — because it happens to people in real life. The hardest part is to not lose any of the musical integrity and we pray that we don't....that is where these amazing musicians come in."

She added, "I believe that good music is good music and it shouldn't be labeled as belonging to any specific genre; it is interesting to explore all of the possibilities."

Molaskey said that a future recording will feature "You Must Meet My Wife"/"Conversation" and "Count Your Blessings"/"Seasons of Love."

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