John Pisano Guitar Night w/ Mundell Lowe
Better than …Nancy Reagan's 90th birthday.
John Pisano has been a fixture in Los Angeles for a long time. His tasteful tones have backed musicians like Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Chico Hamilton, but for over fifteen years now he has been the social glue for local jazz guitarists with his weekly guitar night. Last night before a standing-room only crowd at Lucy's 51 in Toluca Lake, Pisano had a housewarming for his residency's fourth home with the help of another guitar legend, Mundell Lowe.
Although Pisano's name was written high on the chalkboard, the night belonged to the 89- year-old Lowe. Lowe has shared the stage with legends like Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, but last night he played with the clarity and stamina of a man at least twenty years younger. Pisano, actually twenty years younger, led the quartet, which also featured bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Kendall Kay.
Pisano and Lowe both come from the same school of elegant, swinging guitar. Their deliberate fingers crawl over their fretboard like caterpillars on a mission, making the most out of their economical phrasing. The band stuck mostly to tried and true standards. A gentle but upbeat “Darn that Dream” had the guitarists needling each other with alternating solos; a smooth “If I Had You” featured an equally tasteful solo from Berghofer.
Throughout their shared time on stage, the two guitarists played a few simultaneous solos, displaying taste and timing in highlighting the other's phrase while staying out of the way.
Like an informal Irish pub session, the band squeezed into a corner of the busy room with the audience encircling them. Drunkens “woos” were heard throughout the bar as one man failed to quiet the room with his abrasive shushing, but the audience seemed to have little negative effect on the band. Despite their boisterousness, the crowd was attentive, applauding after each solo.
And it seemed like half of that crowd were guitarists. Pisano invited most of them up to play a tune with Lowe. Guitarist Ron Eschete twirled his seven-strings through “There's A Small Hotel,” while acoustic guitarist Laurence Juber offered an animated and slightly Django-indebted solo on “All the Things You Are.” Guitarists Frank Potenza, Anthony Wilson and Pat Kelley all took turns with Lowe in the second half.
The set closed with a cake for Lowe, who will be celebrating his 90th birthday next month. After a flawless, hour-long set, the old man blew out his candles and socialized with the crowd, answering to some who called him “Uncle Munny.”
“Don't tell anyone about this,” Pisano jokingly warned me at the break. “We won't know where to put them if they show up!” If that's the problem for his Tuesday night residency, I'm sure he'll figure out a solution.
Personal Bias: I used to visit this club almost ten years ago when it was the Money Tree. Actor Roscoe Lee Browne used to park his car across the street, facing home, and would grab his seat at the end of the bar and proceed to regale anyone and everyone about the good old days. He would have enjoyed last night.
The Crowd: Less Blue Whale, more blue hair.
Random Notebook Dump: I'm not sure what used to happen on Tuesday nights at Lucy's 51 but many of the bleary-eyed youths who walked into the room seemed rather surprised by what they found. The older community of guitar aficionados had little use for the much advertised “Jager on Tap” but that isn't to say that the waitresses weren't working and money wasn't being spent.