Jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli died Wednesday at his home in Saddle River, New Jersey. He was 94, and the cause was the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to his son, John Pizzarelli, a prominent jazz guitarist and vocalist in his own right. The elder Pizzarelli tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, according to the Bergen Record. His wife, Ruth, and son Martin were at his side when he died. "There will be some kind of tribute as soon as we can all get within 6 feet of each other," son John told the Record.
Bucky Pizzarelli started performing in combos as a teenager and was a sought-after session musician in the 1950s and '60s, playing on records spanning many genres, from jazz to Frank Sinatra and Ben E. King's "Stand by Me." He started working at NBC in 1964, playing in the Tonight Show band until Johnny Carson moved the show to Los Angeles in 1972. That's when he started making a name for himself in clubs around New York City, joined in 1980 by son John, then age 20. Later, they sometimes played with Martin, a bassist, and John's wife, vocalist Jessica Molaskey — John once described the Pizzarellis as "the von Trapp family on martinis." Bucky Pizzarelli performed into his 90s, even after a stroke in 2016.
"Jazz guitar wouldn't be what it is today without Bucky Pizzarelli," jazz guitarist Frank Vignola tells The Associated Press.
John "Bucky" Pizzarelli was born in Patterson, New Jersey, in 1926, the son of grocery store owners. His father, John, nicknamed him "Buckskin" — shortened to Bucky — after becoming enthralled with the Wild West as a teenager and lived in West Texas for a spell. He is survived by his two sons, his wife, daughters Anne and Mary, and four grandchildren.