A warm and gregarious guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli carried the torch for traditional jazz and swing well into the 21st century. Influenced by innovative guitarists like Django Reinhardt and George Van Eps, Pizzarelli was known for his skill on both the six- and seven-string guitar. Following his emergence as a sideman in New York in the 1950s, he established his reputation as a member of the NBC Tonight Show Band during the '60s and '70s. Along with tours with icons like Benny Goodman, he released his own albums, embracing mainstream jazz traditions and commiserating with fellow veterans like Zoot Sims, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others. He passed these traditions down to his sons, guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli and bassist Martin Pizzarelli, recording a handful of highly regarded albums, like 2007's Generations, 2009's Pizzarelli Party, and 2011's Family Fugue, that showcased his wry charm and ebullient fret-board skills. Pizzarelli remained active well into his eighties and continued to explore his varied interests, as on his 2015 classical and standards album Renaissance.
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.
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.