The John Pizzarelli Trio, the stars of the Opening Gala of this year’s Oregon Festival of American Music, are perfectly suited to present examples of "the Great American Songbook", the theme of the 2003 season. Mr. Pizzarelli, the guitarist and singer, literally grew up with the repertoire, which he absorbed at an early age from his father, Bucky Pizzarelli, the senior and still-active guitarist whose career began in the period of the big bands. The Trio continues to present great American songs in venues ranging from grandeur of Carnegie Hall to the intimate confines of Feinstein’s at the Regency on New York’s Park Avenue.
Also in John’s trio are his brother, Martin Pizzarelli, the expert bassist of the family, and Ray Kennedy, one of the fleetest of present-day pianists. As a group, they rework the old songs in their own manner, with humor, swing and gusto.
Opening and closing the evening is the Festival Jazz Orchestra, featuring the well-known clarinetist, Ken Peplowski, in a lengthy medley of songs written for Fred Astaire, arranged and conducted by music director Dick Hyman. From scores by Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, these treasures from the great American songbook inspired the graceful choreography of Astaire and his various partners, of whom Ginger Rogers remains the best remembered. -- Dick Hyman.