“Bucky Birthday Guitar Summit” Huge Hit
By Joe Weston
If there were an Olympic contest among 88 year old Jazz musicians, Bucky Pizzarelli would surely win the gold. But his life as a guitarist and banjoist inspires above and beyond wowing listeners at this golden age.
We are all impressed by stars whose fame become re-doubled as they continue to perform through their 80’s against all odds. Indeed, Pizzarelli is among the George Burns and the Betty Whites of the world.
The most recent milestone showing off Pizzarelli’s longevity was his 88th birthday bash on January 15 dubbed “Bucky Birthday Guitar Summit” at the Bickford Theatre in Morris Township, where he impressed listeners with delicately-played tones from his seven string guitar. Who would have predicted 3 years ago after a comparable performance at the same theatre during Bucky’s 85th birthday tour that he’d be back ”with bells on” last month, having never stopped to take a breath in the meantime?
“He would play 7 days a week if I let him,” says Ed Laub, who is Bucky’s playing partner, manager and former student. “I have to filter what he does. He’s like the Energizer Bunny.”
Laub plays over 100 gigs a year with Bucky, who works 250 out of 365 days. Laub books most of Bucky’s gigs. Their schedule can be followed on www.edlaub.com.
Laub explained why John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli (the nickname stuck after he used the stage name “Johnny Buck” back in the mid 1950’s) is unique as a musician in ways beyond just playing his guitar.
“Musicians are known for keeping their trade secrets and knowledge to themselves lest someone pick it up and overshadow them,” Laub said. But Bucky “has never been jealous or selfish with his art or talent. He shows us all of his “licks” (defined as a taste of a musician’s signature sound) and shares his solo arrangements.”
Laub said Bucky believes that “your job as a musician is to make the other guy look great.” With Bucky, it’s all about the overall performance so that “everyone wins,” Laub added. “It speaks to his character and why he is just a loved individual.”
The bio on Laub’s website sums up their relationship: “12 years ago, Ed divorced himself of all his business ties and became the steady partner to his childhood teacher, idol and close friend, Bucky Pizzarelli. They now travel all over the metropolitan area and major cities in the US, playing in clubs, concert venues and jazz festivals. All About Jazz Magazine said, “Pizzarelli is the complete jazz musician and Laub complements him perfectly!”
In late February 2014 Ed will be featured on a guitar trio album along with John Pizzarelli and leader, Bucky Pizzarelli. The CD, “Three For All”- The Bucky Pizzarelli Trio will be released on Chesky Records. And then in early March 2014, Ed Laub will be releasing his debut CD featuring his mentor and partner, Bucky Pizzarelli.
Venues where Pizzarelli and Laub play include churches, restaurants, community theatres, and even food markets. But get this: Bucky accompanied Michael Feinstein at Carnegie Hall on Valentine’s Day and played at The Cutting Room in NY just the night before.
Yet, Bucky doesn’t get puffed up with his success like many other artists, Laub said. “He always takes time for everyone to speak to him. Where ever we go, this guy is adored because of his smile and his warm, friendly nature.”
Indeed, Bucky’s musical resume is quite impressive. He was a member of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, played at the White House multiple times, toured with Benny Goodman off and on until his death in 1986, and recorded performances on albums, although not his own.
“Bucky will get as much enjoyment playing at a hot dog stand than he does at Carnegie Hall,” Laub said, adding that they have indeed played the whole “supermarket circuit.” Laub went on, “They all (even the most humble of venues) are important to him. He loves being in front of people and doing what he does.”
Laub told of an interesting coincidence when he auditioned for Bucky so he could become his student. Laub, who is in his early 60’s now, was only 16 years old at the time. Bucky heard something familiar in Laub’s performance, and said to Laub: “Where did you learn that?” It turned out that Laub had taken a lesson from a professional musician named Bobby Dominick, who lo and behold was Bucky’s uncle.
Wikipedia tells us that Pizzarelli began his professional career at 17 when he joined the Vaughn Monroe dance band in 1944. Pizzarelli had to temporary leave the group to serve as a US Army infantryman in Austria near the end of World War II, but played in an “unauthorized” dance band while in the military. He became a staff musician for NBC in 1952, he joined the Tonight Show band in 1964, and performed with The Three Suns pop music trio in the mid 1950’s. Beginning in the 1970’s, Pizzarelli began recording as a leader, performing many tributes to musicians of the 1930s era.