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John Pizzarelli

Date of birth : 1960-04-06
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Paterson, New Jersey, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-01-10

John Paul Pizzarelli, Jr. is an American jazz guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and bandleader. He has had a lengthy career as a recording artist, performing for a variety of labels that include Telarc Records, RCA Records and Chesky Records, among others. He has recorded twenty-three albums of his own, as well as other joint recordings with his father, Bucky Pizzarelli.

John Pizzarelli grew up listening and learning at the feet of some of the greats of jazz music. His father, the well-known jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, included his son in some magical moments. The elder Pizzarelli would invite his friends over to play music in the living room at their home in Saddle River, New Jersey. These friends would just happen to be famous musicians like Slam Stuart, Zoot Sims, Benny Goodman, Milt Hinton, and Al Cohn. They would jam in the living room and eat pasta in the kitchen. The younger Pizzarelli, along with older sisters Anne and Mary and younger brother Martin, all got to join in the fun.

Pizzarelli didn't realize the family friends were famous. "I really didn't know much about them aside from they were my dad's buddies. And I think that I had a better time because I didn't know those things," the younger Pizzarelli told International Musician.

Pizzarelli took his first music lessons from his great uncles, Peter and Bob Dominick, who had performed it the 1950s with singer and keyboard player Joe Mooney. "I began on the banjo at six, played guitar at twelve, and entertained thoughts of being Billy Joel or Peter Frampton," Pizzarelli told People. He dreamed of playing along with Frank Sinatra or James Taylor, and was also greatly influenced by Nat King Cole and his drumless trio. "That's when I said, 'This can be my niche. This is something I can do,'" he told Esquire.

Pizzarelli came to appreciate his musical training when he realized that he wasn't going to become a sports star. "I couldn't hit a curveball," he told International Musician. "I wasn't making any of the sports teams and I was a big sports fanatic. That's when I realized there was a reason why I was going to band practice."

As a teenager he played in local garage bands, but he told International Musician, "That's only because I had all the equipment they needed." He attended Don Bosco High School in Ramsey, New Jersey. During summers he attended Knight's Day Camp in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, and later worked there as a camp counselor. It was his only job that didn't involve musical performance.

Pizzarelli completed three semesters at the University of Tampa in Florida, and two semesters at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, planning to major in music and music education. However, he never completed his degree. By the time he was 20, he was playing in his father's band, where he continued for ten years, including a concert at the home of a well-known neighbor, former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon.

"My father really paved a nice road for me with all those guys," he told International Musician. "I started playing jazz festivals and parties, and all of a sudden there I was playing with Ray Brown. I found myself playing with all these great musicians, and I was wondering, how did I end up here? I was really very lucky."

Pizzarelli slowly eased out of his father's shadow, finding success in the early 1980s with the release of I'm Hip---Please Don't Tell My Father with Stash Records. Two more recordings with Stash followed. This gradually led to more recognition and recordings based on his own merit. Trying something new in the late 1980s, he led a rock band called Johnny Pick and his Scabs, but soon found his way back to jazz.

In 1990 Pizzarelli pulled together his first trio and produced the album My Blue Heaven, with his brother Martin on double bass and Ken Levinsky on piano. Showing his admiration for the Nat King Cole trio, Pizzarelli's group also performed without drums.

Throughout the 1990s Pizzarelli toured with the legendary singer Rosemary Clooney, and he recorded with her on the album Brazil. In 1993 the John Pizzarelli Trio was selected to tour with Frank Sinatra. By this time Ray Kennedy had replaced Ray Levinsky on piano. Pizzarelli told International Musician, "Every night we got to hear that great music. We were like school kids each night watching Mr. Sinatra's limo drive away. We had so much fun." Working with Sinatra was the fulfillment of a dream for Pizzarelli, and the trio later took part in a celebration of Sinatra's 80th birthday at Carnegie Hall.
In the early 1990s Pizzarelli signed with RCA Records. He was married for a short time, fathering a son, also named John. By the mid-1990s he began to be compared to Harry Connick, Jr. People magazine wrote, "What Harry can do on piano, John can do on guitar." With constant performing and recording, Pizzarelli's popularity was growing.

In April of 1997 Pizzarelli began an eight-month stint at the Royale Theater on Broadway starring in Dream, a musical based on the lyrics of Johnny Mercer. The part was a perfect fit for Pizzarelli's musical style. He also released Our Love is Here to Stay, an album of American standards featuring music similar to that of Mercer, including compositions by the Gershwin brothers and by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In 1998 he went on to further honor Lennon and McCartney, as well as the rest of the Liverpool group, by releasing Meets the Beatles, where the trio put its own stamp on the well-known music.

Having found success outside of his father's shadow, Pizzarelli found his way back home, often performing with his father. The family members began performing together annually at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City. The annual family reunions included the John Pizzarelli Trio with brothers John and Martin, as well as Bucky and John's second wife, Jessica, whom he married in 1999 after dating her for several years. The couple have a daughter, Madeleine.

Pizzarelli signed with Telarc in 1999. Kisses in the Rain was released in 2000, which departed from his previous polished releases by presenting live sound, still playing the standards, but improvised with his own rhythm. This album was followed by another collection of standards, Let There Be Love.
In 2002 Pizzarelli joined forces with George Shearing to create the album The Rare Delight of You. Shearing had previously recorded with Nat King Cole in 1961 on Nat King Cole sings, George Shearing Plays. In an interview in Down Beat Pizzarelli said, "I got a call from the people at Telarc, and they said, 'Would you like to make a record with George Shearing?' And I said, 'What time and where and when? I'll go over to his house right now.'" Pizzarelli wrote the title song with his wife.

Live at Birdland was released in 2003 to celebrate the trio's ten-year anniversary. In April of 2004 Pizzarelli released Bossa Nova, a combination of American and Brazilian music that paid homage to the music of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. Jobim's grandson, Daniel, was on hand for background and vocals on the recording. The New York Times wrote of Pizzarelli, "He is the rare performer who seems entirely relaxed onstage. The sense of pleasure in music and camaraderie that pours out of him during a performance suggests that he had the good fortune to be born happy. And in his newest show, Bossa Nova, he adapts with complete ease to a style that imposes tighter than usual rhythmic and dynamic restrictions on his natural exuberance."

Pizzarelli has always been a staunch union supporter and member since 1981. "It's amazing, the universality of songs and music in general," he told International Musician. "All over the world there are guys taking their cases out and making music for people. Our music that we give to people is as important to people as anything in the whole wide world. Because that's what is giving people their two hours of joy in a long, stressful day. We have our brotherhood as a union to give people music and make them happy."

Pizzarelli has also released an instructional video titled Jazz Guitar Virtuouso, and is working on a book for Hal Leonard Publishing.


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