John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli
John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli (January 9, 1926 – April 1, 2020) 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). The list of musicians he collaborated with includes Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Stéphane Grappelli, and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Pizzarelli cited as influences Django Reinhardt, Freddie Green, and George Van Eps.
Pizzarelli was born on January 9, 1926, in Paterson, New Jersey. 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 cites as an inspiration Joe Mooney, a blind accordion player who led a quartet that included Pizzarelli’s uncle, Bobby Domenick. During high school, Pizzarelli was the guitarist for a small band that performed classical music.
Later life and career
In 1952 Pizzarelli became a staff musician for NBC, playing with Skitch Henderson. 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.
From 1956–1957, Pizzarelli used the stage name “Johnny Buck” and performed with The Three Suns pop music trio. He toured several times with Benny Goodman until Goodman’s death in 1986. During the following year, he and guitarist George Barnes formed a duo 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 performed with Benny Goodman at the White House in Washington, D.C., and he performed for presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and First Lady Pat Nixon.
“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.
He continued to play into his 90s making several appearances even after a stroke in 2016. He died on April 1, 2020. He had been battling several serious health problems in recent years. His cause of death was not immediately announced. 
His son John is a well-known jazz guitarist and vocalist. 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 on as other recordings. Pizzarelli also appeared on three albums of his daughter-in-law (John’s wife), Jessica Molaskey.
Pizzarelli’s first guitar was an archtop Gibson, an expensive instrument at the time. He played a Benedetto Bucky Pizzarelli Signature seven-string guitar made by Robert Benedetto, who also makes guitars for Howard Alden and Frank Vignola. He learned to play the seven-string from George Van Eps. The extra string on Pizzarelli’s guitar provides 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.
Awards and honors
- Lifetime Achievement Award, MAC Awards, 2002
- Jazz Wall of Fame, ASCAP, 2005
- New Jersey Hall of Fame, 2011
- Guitars Pure and Honest with George Barnes (A&R, 1971)
- Green Guitar Blues (Monmouth Evergeen, 1972)
- Playing Bix Beiderbecke, Bill Challis and Carl Kress, Dick McDonough (Monmouth Evergreen, 1974)
- Nirvana with Zoot Sims (Groove Merchant, 1974)
- Nightwings (Flying Dutchman, 1975)
- Buck and Bud with Bud Freeman (Flying Dutchman, 1976)
- Love Songs (Stash, 1981)
- Solo Flight (Stash, 1986)
- The Rhythm Encounters with Slam Stewart, Red Norvo (Stash, 1989)
- A Portrait (Stash, 1992)
- April Kisses (Arbors, 1999)
- Italian Intermezzo with Ken Peplowski (Menus and Music, 2000)
- Swing Live (Chesky, 2001)
- One Morning in May (Arbors, 2001)
- The Swing Kings with Ray Kennedy (Victoria, 2002)
- Stringin’ the Blues: A Tribute to Eddie Lang with Howard Alden, Frank Vignola, Al Viola (Jazzology, 2003)
- Hot Club of 52nd Street with Howard Alden (Chesky, 2004)
- Flashes (Arbors, 2004)
- Plays the Music of Jerome Kern (LRC, 2006)
- Around the World in 80 Years (Victoria, 2006)
- Lost Songs of 1936 with Dick Hyman (Victoria, 2006)
- Five for Freddie (Arbors, 2007)
- So Hard to Forget (Arbors, 2008)
- Bucky Pizzarelli and the Kennedy Boys Play Harold Arlen (Victoria, 2008)
- Diggin’ Up Bones (Arbors, 2009)
- Back in the Saddle Again (Arbors, 2009)
- Three for All (Chesky, 2014)
- Renaissance: A Journey from Classical to Jazz (Arbors, 2015)
With John Pizzarelli
- 2 X 7 = Pizzarelli (Stash, 1980)
- Swinging Sevens (Stash, 1984)
- Live at the Vineyard (Challenge, 1995)
- Contrasts (Arbors, 1998)
- Passion Guitars (Groove Jams, 1998)
- Twogether (Victoria, 2001)
- Sunday at Pete’s (Challenge, 2007)
- Generations (Arbors, 2007)
- Desert Island Dreamers (Arbors, 2010)
- Family Fugue (Arbors, 2011)
With Jessica Molaskey
With Solomon Burke
- Solomon Burke (Apollo Records, 1962)
With Anita Baker
- Rhythm of Love (Elektra Records, 1994)
With Carly Simon
- Hotcakes (Elektra Records, 1974)
With Sarah Vaughan
- The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 1 (Pablo Records, 1980)
- The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 2 (Pablo Records, 1980)
With Robert Palmer
- Ridin’ High (EMI, 1992)
With Neil Sedaka
- A Song (Elektra Records, 1977)
With Roberta Flack
- First Take (Atlantic Records, 1969)
With Rosemary Clooney
- Do You Miss New York? (Concord Records, 1993)
With Aretha Franklin
- The Electrifying Aretha Franklin (Columbia Records, 1962)
- The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin (Columbia Records, 1962)
With Michael Franks
- Tiger in the Rain (Warner Bros. Records, 1979)
With Paul McCartney
- Kisses on the Bottom (Hear Music, 2012)
- Petterson, Michael. “Recorded Telephone Interview of John “Bucky” Pizzarelli”. freddiegreen.org. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- Landers, Rick. “Bucky Pizzarelli Interview”. modernguitars.com. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- “Jazz Guitar Legend Bucky Pizzarelli Still Swings”. All Things Considered. NPR. February 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
- Holden, Stephen (8 August 1985). “Jersey Jazz Guitars”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
- “Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli has Died at 94”. The Syncopated Times. April 1, 2020. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
- Yanow, Scott (2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists. San Francisco: Backbeat. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.