Jessica Molaskey (Photo: Bill Westmoreland via The Broadway Blog.)
By Ryan Leeds
Jessica Molaskey boasts quite an impressive resume. For years, she starred in numerous Broadway shows including Tommy, Dream, Parade, and a revival of Sunday In the Park With George. She’s also had a successful career as a cabaret artist, performing alongside legendary jazz guitarist (and husband) John Pizzarelli.
Currently, the pair is enjoying a residency at Birdland Jazz Club, where they are celebrating the release of two new albums. Molaskey’s new album, Portraits of Joni, honors the music of one of America’s finest folk singers. Pizzarelli’s recording, Sinatra & Jobim @ 50, captures the bossa-nova beats of the late Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos-Jobim.
Molaskey recently spoke to the Broadway Blog about the album, the show, and secrets for a great marriage.
BB: Joni Mitchell is a great choice, but of all the artists in the world of song, what drew you to creating a label imprint of her music?
JM: My mom used to work at a radio station in rural Connecticut when I was growing up. She would bring home various records because the station was a disparate mix of music. Two that I remember were Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music and Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. They both completely changed my life. So, I followed my dream of working for Sondheim (which I got to do!)
I had never experienced the emotion and stories that Joni could put down in a song. One day, I was going to the American Songbook at Lincoln Center and the creators of that series asked me if I’d be interested in doing a songbook next year. I didn’t even hesitate. I just said, ‘Joni Mitchell!” I did two nights to great success. People asked for the record, so here it is.
Kurt Deutsch, who runs Sh-K-Boom records suggested the imprint because solo albums from Broadway people tend to get lost. This boutique idea would give artists the chance to express themselves in their recordings.
BB: Is Joni Mitchell aware of the recording or has she given her blessing?
JM: I don’t know. I’m assuming that she does, but it’s a slippery slope. I’ve been performing Sondheim for years at the Café Carlyle and we do some crazy, jazzy stuff with it. At first, Sondheim wasn’t a fan of what we were doing and complained that we were re-harmonizing his songs. Over the years, he came around to it.
I’ve actually never met Mitchell and she is one of the few heroes I never had the chance to meet, but I think that’s just fine. I don’t want to have a moment when she says, “I don’t like that you’ve turned ‘Chelsea Morning’ into a Brazilian tune!”
BB: Do you worry that people will draw comparisons between you and the original songs?
JM: I figure that there be a sector of Mitchell fans who feel as though no one will touch her songs or change them, but so far, so good. I feel like people are listening to this album with loving hearts. One thing I did was to keep everything in the original key.
BB: Talk about the show at Birdland. What can we expect?
JM: Yes. There was a record that came out 50 years ago of Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos-Jobim. John’s album is a tribute to that original album. Basically what’s happening is that I’m like Lucy Ricardo sneaking into the act (laughs). My daughter is also on John’s album and so is Daniel Jobim, Antonio’s grandson. We were going to be there anyway, so I just suggested that I do some Joni Mitchell songs in the middle. That way, both albums are represented.
We just did it in Seattle and I have to say, it’s just a specifically wonderful night. Right now, with everything happening on the planet, this is very life affirming.
BB: Absolutely! We have to grab happiness where we can. Music is a powerful way to do that.
JM: Especially the Jobim music. He lived at the beach. It is so elemental and joyful. He really invented his own vernacular.
BB: You and John have been together for quite some time, right?
JM: Yes! For 21 years. We just celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary. It’s been amazing how it’s all worked out.
BB: Congratulations! You’re like the unicorns of show business in that sense. With living and working together, what are your secrets to a happy and successful marriage?
JM: Honestly, I don’t want to work with anyone else but him. I always say that it’s like surfing on the same surfboard. I can’t explain it but I just feel closer to him when we work together. We always said that if it gets in the way, we’ll stop. But he produced my album and I produced his. I feel like anytime he has a comment, I never take it as criticism. I always understand that he wants it to be the best that it can be. It’s always been the way we operate. Plus, he makes me laugh really hard.
John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey
Birdland Jazz Club
315 West 44th Street, NYC
Two shows nightly through Saturday, Aug. 12
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or Facebook.