The Bucky Pizzarelli Award


The Artisan Guitar Show Bucky Pizzarelli Award

The Artisan Guitar Show features the work of the finest guitar makers in the world. Each year, master builders, performers, and guest lecturers share their craft and knowledge with the guitar community. In many respects, the show is a celebration of both greatness and community.

In 2022, the Artisan Guitar Show will begin presenting an annual award. The purpose of this award is to honor someone in the guitar community who has contributed greatly, but has not necessarily known the warmth of the spotlight. Throughout the history of music, many fine and talented players have fallen into this category. It was not that many years ago that names like the Wrecking Crew with Tommy Tedesco and the Funk Brothers with Eddie Willis were largely unknown to mainstream America. Guitarists like Dean Parks, Larry Carlton, Brent Mason, Richard Bennett, and Danny Kortchmar have quietly, but significantly impacted the music that changed many of our lives.

Bucky Pizzarelli was loved and admired. His lifetime of accomplishments is as significant as any guitar player could ever hope to achieve. He played with the Tonight Show Band and Benny Goodman. He performed session work on important works including those of Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Ray Charles – Georgia On My Mind.

Like many guitarists, Bucky accomplished this right on the very outside edge of the spotlight known as fame. We have decided to name this annual award The Artisan Guitar Show Bucky Pizzarelli Award. The Pizzarelli family has graciously allowed us to use his name.  

John Paul Pizzarelli was born in Paterson, NJ in 1926 and he became a world-renowned jazz guitarist. The world lost this remarkable man in 2020. His career spanned a period of more than 70 years and included stints that ranged from the Vaughn Monroe Orchestra to the Johnny Carson Tonight Show under both Skitch Henderson and Doc Severinsen.

He performed hundreds of jazz concerts worldwide including White House performances with Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, and Claude “Fiddler” Williams for much admired Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. His work as a prominent session player also included work with Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Dion & The Belmonts. He even played on the Brian Hyland 1960 hit Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.

His numerous worldwide tours also included performances with practically every jazz legend such as Stephane Grapelli, Slam Stewart, Tal Farlow, Rosemary Clooney, Zoot Sims, Benny Carter, Michael Feinstein, and Charlie Byrd – just to name a few. He has hundreds of jazz recordings with every major jazz great including his own solo albums and his work with his two sons, John and Martin Pizzarelli.

Zimnicki guitar for the Buck Pizzarelli award
The Artisan Guitar Show will again partner with Gary Zimnicki of Zimnicki Guitars to build our award guitar.

His film soundtrack work includes the Woody Allen jazz classic Sweet and Lowdown (1999) as well as other prominent films Mighty Aphrodite (1995) and Two Family House (2000). Bucky also appeared on PBS in Jersey Jazz Guitars filmed at Rutgers University with Les Paul and Tal Farlow. He became one of the very first musicians in New Jersey to have two of his guitars, along with a recorded history of his lifetime in music, inducted into the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Bucky Pizzarelli was a gracious and kind man. The people in his life all seem to have one thing in common – they loved and admired him both as a man and as a guitarist. Duke Ellington once stated that a man cannot demand respect – he can only command respect. Bucky Pizzarelli commanded the respect not just of those who knew him, but of an industry.

The first recipient of the annual Artisan Guitar Show Bucky Pizzarelli Award was the profoundly respected and amazingly talented Gene Bertoncini. We have selected one of the most accomplished guitarists and session players in the history of recorded music to receive the second annual Artisan Guitar Show Bucky Pizzarelli Award. Stay tuned for our formal announcement.