Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Jazz artists Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli plan unforgettable evening of Nat King Cole hits with ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’ Oct. 13 at Eisenhower

Prolific, powerhouse jazz artists Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli will celebrate the music of Nat King Cole—“the best friend a song ever had”—with their tribute concert “Straighten Up and Fly Right” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, in Eisenhower Auditorium.

The program will feature Lewis on piano and Pizzarelli on vocals and guitar performing some of Cole’s unforgettable hits, including “Route 66,” “This Will Make You Laugh,” “Paper Moon,” “Nature Boy” and “Hit That Jive Jack,” as well as classic songs by Lewis.

Purchase tickets, which are $48 for an adult, $15 for a University Park student and $38 for a person 18 and younger. A grant from the University Park Allocation Committee makes Penn State student prices possible.

At a young age, Lewis studied classical piano, performing works by composers including Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. He was 15 when his church asked him to join the jazz band, where a congregant-musician coached him.

The Chicago-based pianist-composer first piqued jazz fans’ interest with Ramsey Lewis Trio’s debut album, “Ramsey Lewis and The Gentlemen of Swing,” in 1956. But he kept them entertained with chart-toppers, such as the 1965 hits “The In Crowd” and “Hang on Sloopy,” and his leanings toward gospel and smooth-jazz styles.

Since then, Lewis has released more than 80 recordings highlighting his jazz, funk and pop compositions. He won three Grammy Awards (as both a jazz and rhythm-and-blues artist), and five of his albums went gold.

Lewis’ musical expertise has landed him wide-ranging career opportunities, including a 13-episode “Legends of Jazz” public-television show. He is the artistic director of Jazz at Ravinia in suburban Chicago and is on the board of trustees for an inner-city music school in his home city. He also helped to form the Ramsey Lewis Foundation, which aims to connect at-risk youth with the world of music. He has hosted radio shows in Chicago, including the “The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show,” and his current syndicated program, “Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis,” airs in various cities throughout the United States.

Pizzarelli grew up in a musical family—his father is New York jazz guitarist “Bucky” Pizzarelli—listening to jazz standards. Pizzarelli said he became smitten with Cole’s repertoire because it had the same ingredients as rock and roll. “The songs were completely different than a Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett repertoire. There was this whole other jazz repertoire … that was really fun,” he said in an interview with the Center for the Performing Arts.

In addition to memorizing Cole’s catalog, he became adept at adding his personal touch to the Great American Songbook with scatting, lightning-fast strum work and entertaining vocal chops. He took his talents on the road, first with his father and then with John Pizzarelli Trio, with which he has toured since 1992.

In his 36 years of professional recording, Pizzarelli has released more than 40 albums. His solo recordings and original compositions complement his Christmas covers; bossa nova collection; and tributes to Broadway, pop and jazz masters—most recently, Paul McCartney. He has performed on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Live with Regis & Kelly,” “The CBS Early Show” and with hip-hop/soul group The Roots on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

Find more information about the musicians and the concert.

Watch Lewis perform a funk medley with soul singer Philip Bailey.

See Pizzarelli perform a cover of McCartney’s “Let ’em In,” from the 2015 release “Midnight McCartney.”

Artistic Viewpoints, an informal moderated discussion featuring Pizzarelli, is offered in Eisenhower one hour before the concert and is free for ticket holders. Artistic Viewpoints regularly fills to capacity, so seating is available on a first-arrival basis.

Northwest Savings Bank sponsors the performance.