Bucky Pizzarelli

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Bucky Pizzarelli
Photo of an old man smiling
Pizzarelli at the 2014 Detroit Jazz Festival
Background information
Birth nameJohn Paul Pizzarelli
Born(1926-01-09)January 9, 1926
Paterson, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedApril 1, 2020(2020-04-01) (aged 94)
Saddle River, New Jersey, U.S.
GenresJazz, swing, big band
Years active1950–2018
LabelsSavoy, Stash, Arbors, Victoria, Chesky

John Paul "Bucky" Pizzarelli (January 9, 1926 – April 1, 2020)[1] was an American jazz guitarist.

He was the father of jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli and double bassist Martin Pizzarelli. He worked for NBC as a staffman for Dick Cavett (1971) and ABC with Bobby Rosengarden in (1952). Musicians he collaborated with include Benny Goodman, George Barnes, Les Paul, Stéphane Grappelli, Benny Green, and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Pizzarelli cited as influences Django Reinhardt, Freddie Green, and George Van Eps.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Pizzarelli was born on January 9, 1926, in Paterson, New Jersey, United States.[4] He learned to play guitar and banjo at a young age. His uncles, Pete and Bobby Domenick, were professional musicians, and sometimes the extended family would gather at one of their homes with their guitars for jam sessions. Pizzarelli cited blind accordion player Joe Mooney as an inspiration. Mooney led a quartet that included Pizzarelli's uncle, Bobby Domenick.[5] During high school, Pizzarelli was the guitarist for a small band that performed classical music.[3]


Pizzarelli began his professional career at 17 when he joined the Vaughn Monroe dance band in 1944.[5]

In 1951, he did his first recording as a sideman outside the Monroe orchestra with Joe Mooney.

In 1952 Pizzarelli became a staff musician for NBC, playing with Skitch Henderson.[5] In 1964, he became a member of The Tonight Show Band on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. During his time spent performing for the Tonight Show, he accompanied guest bands and musicians playing through a variety of musical genres, including playing with Tiny Tim (after tuning the performer's ukulele) on the day that Tiny Tim married Miss Vicki on Carson's show.[5]

From 1956 to 1957, Pizzarelli used the stage name "Johnny Buck" and performed with The Three Suns pop music trio. During the following year, he and guitarist George Barnes formed a duo[6] and recorded two albums, including a live performance in August 1971, at The Town Hall in New York City. Beginning in the 1970s, he began recording as a leader, issuing many tributes to musicians of the 1930s. He toured several times with Benny Goodman until Goodman's death in 1986. He performed with Benny Goodman[7] at the White House in Washington, D.C., and he performed for presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton,[8] and First Lady Pat Nixon.[9]

"Jersey Jazz Guitars" was the name of a 1985 concert held at the Rutgers University Nicholas Music Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The ticket featured Pizzarelli, Les Paul, Tal Farlow, and Pizzarelli's son, John. The concert was aired on New Jersey's public radio station as part of their three-part New Jersey Summerfare Series. Pizzarelli and Les Paul had performed together before, as they were neighbors and friends. The show aired for one hour in August 1985, with son John adding his vocals on two selections.[10]

Pizzarelli continued to play into his 90s, making several appearances even after a stroke in 2016, officially retiring after a final brief appearance with Michael Feinstein in 2018. He died of COVID-19 on April 1, 2020, in Saddle River, New Jersey. He had been battling several serious health problems in recent years.[1][7][11][12]


Pizzarelli's first guitar was an archtop Gibson, an expensive instrument at the time. Since his first professional assignment with Vaughn Monroe, he favoured 1930s and 1940s Epiphone DeLuxe models and used them throughout his career for six-string, rhythm guitar work – as notably heard on his 2007 record Five for Freddie: Bucky Pizzarelli's Tribute To Freddie Green.[13] Inspired by George Van Eps, in 1969 he started playing the seven-string guitar.[14] In later years he owned and used a vast range of guitars but was mostly seen playing a Benedetto Bucky Pizzarelli Signature made by Robert Benedetto, who also makes guitars for Howard Alden and Frank Vignola. The extra string on Pizzarelli's guitar provided him with a bass line during performances. Pizzarelli also played a custom seven-string American archtop guitar made by luthier Dale Unger, who also makes custom guitars for Pizzarelli's partner, Ed Laub.[15]


With Anita Baker

With Solomon Burke

  • Solomon Burke (Apollo, 1962)

With Petula Clark

  • Warm and Tender (Warner Bros., 1971)

With Rosemary Clooney

With Judy Collins

With Dion DiMucci

With Roberta Flack

With Aretha Franklin

With Michael Franks

With Henry Gross

  • Release (Lifesong, 1976)

With Janis Ian

With Paul McCartney

With Helen Merrill

  • Casa Forte (Trio, 1980)

With Jane Monheit

With Tony Mottola

  • Lush, Latin & Lovely (Project 3, 1967)

With Robert Palmer

With Neil Sedaka

With Carly Simon

With Sarah Vaughan

With Loudon Wainwright III

Personal life and death[edit]

Pizzarelli married Ruth (née Litchult) in 1954.[16] His son John is a jazz guitarist and vocalist and his son Martin is a professional bassist who has recorded with his father and brother. His daughter Mary is a classical guitarist who appeared on her father's third album as a leader, Green Guitar Blues, as well as on other recordings. Pizzarelli also appeared on three albums of his daughter-in-law (John's wife), Jessica Molaskey.[17] He died on April 1, 2020, from complications of COVID-19.[18]

Awards and honors[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli has Died at 94". The Syncopated Times. April 1, 2020. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  2. ^ Petterson, Michael. "Recorded Telephone Interview of John "Bucky" Pizzarelli". freddiegreen.org. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  3. ^ a b Landers, Rick. "Bucky Pizzarelli Interview". modernguitars.com. Archived from the original on 2006-04-25. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  4. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 1966/7. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  5. ^ a b c d "Jazz Guitar Legend Bucky Pizzarelli Still Swings". All Things Considered. NPR. February 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  6. ^ Smith, Harrison (2 April 2020). "Bucky Pizzarelli, whose guitar mastery extended to seven strings, dies at 94 of coronavirus". The Washington Post.
  7. ^ a b c Westhoven, William (2 April 2020). "Jazz-guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli dies at 94 after testing positive for coronavirus". USA Today.
  8. ^ "Jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli dies from coronavirus". ABC News. 2 April 2020.
  9. ^ "The King of Guitar: An Interview with John "Bucky" Pizzarelli". Local802AFM.org. April 2003. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  10. ^ Holden, Stephen (8 August 1985). "Jersey Jazz Guitars". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  11. ^ Chinen, Nate (2 April 2020). "Bucky Pizzarelli, Jazz Guitarist And Prolific Session Musician, Dead At 94". NPR.
  12. ^ "Bucky Pizzarelli, Master of the Jazz Guitar, Is Dead at 94". The New York Times. April 2, 2020.
  13. ^ Carlton, Jim (2009). Conversations with great jazz and studio guitarists. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay. p. 102.
  14. ^ "Jazz Guitar Legend Bucky Pizzarelli Still Swings". All Things Considered. NPR. February 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  15. ^ "People That Use Our Guitars". American Archtop Guitars. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  16. ^ Chinen, Nate (April 2, 2020). "Bucky Pizzarelli, Jazz Guitarist And Prolific Session Musician, Dead At 94". NPR. Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio, Inc. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  17. ^ Yanow, Scott (2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists. San Francisco: Backbeat. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.
  18. ^ Westhoven, William (April 2, 2020). "Jazz-guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli dies at 94 after testing positive for coronavirus". USA Today. McLean, Virginia: Gannett Company. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  19. ^ "2002 MAC Award Nominees and Winners". MAC Awards. Archived from the original on 27 January 2020. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  20. ^ "Karen Mason, Craig Rubano, Sam Harris Among 2002 MAC Award Winners". Playbill. 2 April 2002. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  21. ^ "Pizzarelli Sons To Join Bucky Pizzarelli Birthday Bash At Bickford Theatre". NewJerseyStage.com. 4 January 2018.
  22. ^ "Bucky Pizzarelli's annual birthday bash set Monday". New Jersey Herald. 4 January 2018.
  23. ^ "Family affair: Bucky Pizzarelli birthday bash at Bickford to include sons John and Martin, Jan. 8". MorristownGreen.com. 8 January 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  24. ^ "Jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli dies from coronavirus". SFGate.com. 2 April 2020.
  25. ^ Olivier, Bobby (2 April 2020). "Jazz legend Bucky Pizzarelli dead at 94 from coronavirus". Chicago Tribune.

External links[edit]