Remembering Bucky Pizzarelli


John (left) and Bucky Pizzarelli (1926–2020)

(Photo: Jimmy Katz)

Acclaimed jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli died on April 1 at age 94. He had suffered health problems, and his son, the singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli, confirmed to The New York Times that the cause was coronavirus.

His long list of collaborators includes Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, George Barnes, Dick Hyman, Stéphane Grappelli, Zoot Sims, Bud Freeman, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Stanley Jordan and Paul McCartney, who recruited the guitarist to play on two standards recorded for his 2012 album, Kisses On The Bottom.

Pizzarelli’s leader albums included Green Guitar Blues (1972), Love Songs (1981), April Kisses (1999) and Back In The Saddle Again (2009).

Bucky and John recorded numerous albums together, including Contrasts, Generations and Family Fugue, all released on the Arbors label.

In the January 2016 issue of DownBeat, in a review of A Beautiful Friendship (Venus)—a duo album by Pizzarelli and vocalist Alexis Cole—critic Scott Yanow described the guitarist as being “still in prime form.”

Born in Paterson, New Jersey, on Jan. 9, 1926, he was named John Pizzarelli, but his father gave him the nickname “Bucky.”

He began his musical career at age 17 in Vaughn Monroe’s band. He served in the Army during World War II and then rejoined Monroe’s group.

Pizzarelli was a member of The Tonight Show house band in the late 1960s and early ’70s, working with bandleader Skitch Henderson and then Doc Severinsen.

Pizzarelli frequently performed with a guitar designed to have a seventh string, allowing him to play an additional bass line. Particularly revered by fellow guitarists and fans of straightahead jazz and standards, Pizzarelli performed at the White House for two presidents: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Janis Siegel, a member of the vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer, posted this tribute on Facebook on April 1: “We say a reluctant goodbye to the great guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli this evening. Rest in power dear man. I had the great pleasure of recording a bit with him and he was the sweetest and most generous man. My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to his family.”

In addition to his son John, survivors include Bucky’s wife, Ruth (Litchult) Pizzarelli; another son, Martin, a bassist; two daughters, Anne Hymes and Mary (a guitarist); as well as four grandchildren. DB

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