'Unforgettable' Nat King Cole tribute is April 23

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‘Unforgettable’ Nat King Cole tribute is April 23

Ramsey Lewis (left) and John Pizzarelli (publicity photos)

Three-time Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis and singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli will perform their ultimate Nat King Cole tribute, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” at 7:30 p.m. April 23 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

Tickets, starting at $36 for adults and $18 for students, are available at http://www.liedcenter.org, at the Lied Center Box Office, 301 N. 12th St., or by phone at 402-472-4747.

“Nat King Cole is one of the most iconic performers in history,” said Bill Stephan, executive director of the Lied Center. “It seems only natural that two of today’s most celebrated jazz performers would join forces and pay homage to Cole’s numerous hits, including ‘Route 66,’ ‘Mona Lisa,’ ‘Unforgettable’ and many more.”

Cole (1919-65) broke the pop barrier with his smoky, smooth vocals, stringing along a huge number of solid hits right after his first, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” soared up the charts in 1943. As a singer, he was called “the best friend a song ever had,” but he was essentially a jazz performer at heart. Even those later tracks crafted for the pop charts belie a piano technique, vocal phrasings and on-the-mark orchestration that are indebted to his early roots in jazz. Lewis and Pizzarelli have crafted a tribute to the titan of ’50s vocal pop, from his hits along with those singular tracks of sophisticated cool jazz that have influenced their own careers.

A composer, pianist and jazz legend, Lewis has been referred to as “The Great Performer,” a title reflecting his performance style and musical selections which display his early gospel playing and classical training along with his love of jazz and other musical forms.

Lewis first captivated fans with his inaugural album, “Ramsey Lewis and the Gentlemen of Swing” by the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1956. By 1965, he was one of the nation’s most successful jazz pianists, topping the charts with “The in Crowd,” “Hang on Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water.” He has seven gold records to his credit and was awarded the 2006 Stellar Award for Best Gospel Instrumental Album, “With One Voice.” He was also the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2007. Lewis has received five honorary doctoral degrees and numerous other accolades.

Pizzarelli has performed on the country’s most popular national television shows, such as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “The Conan Show,” “Live with Regis and Kelly,” “The Tony Danza Show,” “The CBS Early Show,” Fox News Channel, the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Pizzarelli received the 2009 Ella Fitzgerald Award from the Montreal International Jazz Festival, joining a select group of past winners, including Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett and Harry Connick Jr.

“I’ve always said in my concerts that Nat King Cole is why I do what I do,” Pizzarelli said. “We aren’t trying to copy him. His sound was singular and inspired. I’ve always said we’re an extension, a 21st century version of what that group was.”

Pizzarelli devoted his RCA albums, “Dear Mr. Cole” and “P.S. Mr. Cole,” to music made famous by the beloved song stylist.

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