NEW YORK (CelebrityAccess) — Bucky Pizzarelli, a jazz guitarist who toiled for years as an unheralded session musician but finally found fame in the jazz scene of 1970s New York, died on Wednesday. He was 94.
According to the New York Times, his son John Pizzarelli, also a respected singer and guitarist, said the cause of his father’s death was coronavirus.
A native of New Jersey, Bucky Pizzarelli came from a musical family and by the time he was in high school, he was playing guitar for a small classical music band, according to a 2007 interview with Modern Guitars.
In 1944, when he was 17, he landed his first professional gig and joined the Vaughn Monroe Dance Band, a big band group that was popular in the 1940s and ’50s.
During this period, he also served as a session artist, and played in hundreds of recording sessions and toured with Benny Goodman.
In 1956, Pizzarelli accepted a gig as a staff musician for NBC, playing with Skitch Henderson, and later becoming a part of Johnny Carson’s house band on the Tonight Show.
When Carson decamped to Los Angeles in 1972, Pizzarelli stayed behind and began performing more regularly at New York City concert venues, both as a sideman for artists such as Bud Freeman and Zoot Sims and as a solo artist.
He later partnered with his son John, who became a noted jazz guitarist in his own right.
“That’s where he got his baptism of fire,” Pizzarelli said in a 1997 interview. “With me giving him dirty looks when he played a wrong chord.”
The elder Pizzarelli continued to perform into his 90s, even after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2016.
“He was a wonderful dad. He was a decent bocce player, a New York football Giants fan and for some reason liked the Yankees. But, he was music first and foremost and it showed in his artistry. He taught himself classical guitar! Played the literature, like a jazz guitarist, which is the only way I can hear it now. I’ll add more later but I wanted to raise my glass to this amazing man. If you want to do him a favor, send some money to the Jazz Foundation. JFA.org or call Joe Petrucelli there at 212-245-3999 ext 10-thanks for listening,” John Pizzarelli wrote on Facebook after his father’s passing.