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BUCKY PIZZARELLI,
1926-2020

Bucky Pizzarelli, a legendary jazz guitarist who spent the 1950s and ‘60s playing on hundreds of jazz and pop sessions, died Wednesday in Saddle River, N.J., of complications from COVID-19. He was 94.

Usually uncredited, he played on records by The Drifters, Aretha Franklin and The Coasters, Frank Sinatra, Charles Mingus and Sarah Vaughan, Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” and Bryan Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” He toured with Benny Goodman from 1966 to 1986 and played in the Tonight Show orchestra when the show was based in New York.

Pizzarelli, a lifelong resident of New Jersey, decided to not move west with Johnny Carson in 1972 and started gigging regularly in New York jazz clubs. He performed solo and as a sideman with saxophonists Zoot Sims and Bud Freeman and the violinists Stéphane Grappelli and Joe Venuti.

He started working with son, John Pizzarelli, in 1980 in a two-guitar setting. Years later, after the younger Pizzarelli was established as a jazz and cabaret performer, Bucky would often perform as a guest in his band, which included another son, Martin, on bass.

Pizzarelli performed into his 90s, even after a stroke and a bout with pneumonia. He recorded often in the 21st century, appearing on records by his son John, Stanley Jordan and Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom, among others, and backed Rufus Wainwright on his re-creation of Judy Garland’s Carnegie Hall concert.

In a tribute on Facebook, John Pizzarelli wrote:

“Playing with Les Paul at the St Regis, encouraging him to start playing again in the early 70’s; Accompanying Julie London at the Americana in the 60’s (read the reviews and there is always a great mention of their duets); his trio at the Pierre hotel which Whitney Balliett described as “great jazz disguised hotel music” and numerous record dates with everyone from Tony Bennett, Carly Simon, Janis Ian (‘At Seventeen’) to Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

“My father was a mentor to so many guitarists both professional and amateur. Always doling our advice, always encouraging, always in tune and always ready for a record date.

“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.”

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