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Old & Young Masters

Get inspired by everyone from Nat King Cole to Shakespeare to Harry Potter

John Pizzarelli loves the old masters. The popular singer/guitarist’s recent albums have offered remakes of or tributes to storied performers and songwriters from Frank Sinatra to Paul McCartney to Tom Jobim, Duke Ellington and more.

His latest lionizes another of the 20th century’s greatest singers, Nat King Cole, on his centenary. “Style is coming back in style,” Pizzarelli croons on the opening track. Though cigarettes killed him too young, Cole’s light, graceful vocal style, which made any classic tune go down easy, never really went away.

That shared aesthetic is only one reason Pizzarelli has a “Nat-ural” affinity for his hero. Both first gained acclaim as instrumentalists (Cole on piano, Pizzarelli on guitar), then won larger audiences as engaging vocalists.

Pizzarelli’s centennial tribute album is his third Cole collection. “Nat King Cole is the reason why I do what I do,” Pizzarelli says, and his Jan. 25 show at The Shedd features the American Songbook tunes and a floaty, drumless piano-guitar-acoustic bass trio configuration that vaulted the King to his throne in the late 1940s.

You can hear a more traditional jazz threesome Jan. 24 when Portland’s Greg Goebel Trio (piano/bass/drums) returns to The Jazz Station to play everything from straight-ahead jazz to funk to more adventurous tunes. Easily one of the most sensitive supporting pianists on the West Coast (as longtime colleagues like David Friesen, Gino Vanelli and Nancy King will attest), he shines in a leading role, as well, when given the extra space and spotlight to stretch out. 

Thursday, Jan. 23, The Shedd also welcomes another set of venerable as well as younger-generation master musicians to play danceable traditional Cuban classics and contemporary Cuban-influenced jazz, Juan De Marcos González’s Afro-Cuban All Stars. They are a dozen crack Cuban-born expatriates, including some who performed with members of the original Buena Vista Social Club or other stars (e.g. James Brown), along with younger players who connect to today’s Cuban sounds.

Speaking of Ye Olde Masters energized by younger musicians, Eugene Symphony’s Jan. 23 concert at the Hult Center serves up meaty Romantic masterworks that have so long dominated classical orchestra programs: Brahms’s pastoral second symphony (an affable intro for newbies) and Sibelius’s glowering, symphonic 1904 Violin Concerto (starring fellow Finn Elina Vähälä in the virtuosic solo role).

Happily for 21st-century music fans, the concert also features a cosmic 2013 appetizer by one of today’s most acclaimed American composers, Missy Mazzoli, who describes her 12-minute “Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres)” as “music in the shape of a solar system, a collection of rococo loops that twist around each other within a larger orbit. It’s a piece that churns and roils, that inches close to the listener only to leap away at breakneck speed, in the process transforming the ensemble turns into a makeshift hurdy-gurdy, flung recklessly into space.” The Oregon Symphony plays it next month in Portland.

That orchestra is also Pottering around next month with Patrick Doyle’s score to the fourth Harry Potter film, Goblet of Fire. But before that, on Jan. 31 at the Hult Center, Eugene Symphony plays John Williams’s stirring score to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone while audiences gaze upon the film in glorious 40-foot high definition projected behind them. 

Still more contemporary classical music emanates from the UO’s Beall Hall Feb. 3, when the Seoul-based Mirus Trio joins University of Oregon clarinet professor Wonkak Kim in American composer Paul Moravec’s delightful Tempest Fantasy, which captured the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music after that long-irrelevant award finally started honoring music that broad audiences genuinely enjoy.

Moravec calls it a “musical meditation on characters, moods, situations, and lines of text from my favorite Shakespeare play, The Tempest. Rather than depicting these elements in literally programmatic terms, I have used them instead as points of departure for flights of purely musical fancy.” It’s a scintillating journey.