Bucky Pizzarelli, photo © David Jellema
Bucky Pizzarelli

For more than half a century, John "Bucky" Pizzarelli has been a part of the fraternity of musicians who have kept mainstream and traditional jazz alive.

He learned to play banjo and guitar when he was young. At the age of 17 he toured with Vaughan Monroe's dance band, which he re-joined after military service in 1946; he made recordings with the band for RCA and also played on the radio. In 1952 he joined the staff of NBC. For many years, at NBC, he played in the Doc Severinsen Band on the Tonight Show.

After touring for two years with the Three Suns trio, he returned to New York to work in the recording studios and as a freelance. One of the era's most solid rhythm players, Pizzarelli was in high demand to provide propulsion and background for other musicians. He played and toured with Benny Goodman, forming a close association with him that lasted until Goodman's death; he also led his own trio and recorded duos with Zoot Sims (1976), Bud Freeman (1975),  Stephane Grappelli (1979) and his son John (from around 1981).

Bucky Pizzarelli plays a seven-string electric guitar; the extra string (tuned to A) allows him to play a bass line to his own solos. He is known not only for his exceptional solo performances on the electric instrument, but also for his proficiency as a classical guitarist. He is also a Faculty Member Emeritus of William Paterson College in Wayne, NJ.

His recordings as leader began to appear in the 1970's with releases like Green Guitar Blues. On this release Pizzarelli established a pattern he repeated throughout his career, that is, playing and recording some of the great historic guitar compositions from the 1930s. On this recording he pays homage to Carl Kress and Dick McDonough by including "Chicken A La Swing." A few years later he paid tribute to these two guitarists again on his Guitar Quintet LP. On April Kisses (1999), he includes original music by Carl Kress, George Van Eps and George M. Smith.