Born in 1926 in Paterson, New Jersey, John Paul Bucky Pizzarelli grew up in a musical family and was introduced to the guitar and banjo at a young age. Influenced early on by his uncles, professional musicians Pete and Bobby Domenick, he began playing jazz and classical music. He soon developed a swinging style influenced by players like Django Reinhardt, Freddie Green, and seven-string guitar inventor George Van Eps. At age 17, he made his professional debut with the Vaughn Monroe dance band. Other gigs followed, and in 1952 Pizzarelli joined the staff band at NBC, then led by Skitch Henderson. For the next decade, he split his time working for the network and playing gigs around New York City. During this period he also performed with the Three Suns trio, working under the stage name "Johnny Buck". He recorded with Lionel Hampton, Tony Mottola, Mat Mathews, and others. As a leader, he made his recorded debut in 1960 with the duo album Music Minus Many Men, with bassist Vinnie Burke. In 1964 he joined Johnny Carson's legendary Tonight Show Band featuring trumpeter Doc Severinsen. He also began touring as a member of Benny Goodman's group.
Pizzarelli's recordings picked up in the '70s, beginning with 1972's Green Guitar Blues, featuring bassist George Duvivier and drummer Don Lamond. He formed a duo with guitarist George Barnes and continued his work with clarinetist Goodman. More albums followed, including 1975's Nightwings, a solo guitar outing that also featured an appearance by Joe Venuti; 1977's Bucky's Bunch with bassist Slam Stewart and clarinetist Eddie Daniels, and 1977's Doug and Buck with pedal steel player Doug Jernigan. There were notable sessions with Zoot Sims, Bud Freeman, and an album of Bix Beiderbecke tunes arranged by Bill Challis.
Also during the '70s, the guitarist began showcasing his talented son, guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli, at his gigs. They made their recorded debut together on 1980's 2x7=Pizzarelli, which featured the then-19-year-old John in a duet setting with his father. He also backed his son on the younger Pizzarelli's solo debut, 1983's I'm Hip: Please Don't Tell My Father. Bucky would continue to record alongside John for many of his sessions, including 1990's My Blue Heaven, 1991's All of Me, 1993's Naturally, and 1994's New Standards. In 1995, Pizzarelli returned to his solo work with Nirvana, playing alongside bassist Lynn Seaton and drummer Bernard Purdie. He then paired with violinist Richard Carr for 1998's String Thing, and rejoined his son for 1999's Contrasts. Also that year, he issued the solo seven-string guitar date April Kisses.
In 2001, Pizzarelli released a second solo album of seven-stringed guitar, One Morning in May. Also that year, he paired with pianist John Bunch and bassist Jay Leonhart for the Duke Ellington-themed Manhattan Swing: A Visit with the Duke. The same group, this time with drummer Dennis Mackrel, returned in 2003 with Plays the Music of Jerome Kern. Moonglow, a collaboration with guitarist Frank Vignola, arrived in 2005, followed two years later by 5 for Freddie: Bucky's Tribute to Freddie Green. He also paired with son John for 2007's duo seven-stringed guitar album, Generations. Pizzarelli then showcased his eclectic taste with the Western-swing themed albums, 2009's Diggin' Up Bones and 2010's Back in the Saddle Again: Arbors Country Series, Vol. 2. Both Bucky and John were the focus of 2011's Family Fugue, after which the elder Pizzarelli paid homage to esteemed jazz arranger Bill Challis with Challis in Wonderland. The trio album Three for All arrived in 2014, followed a year later by the classical-themed Renaissance. Bucky Pizzarelli died on April 1, 2020 due to complications from the COVID-19 virus. He was 94 years old. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi
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