Two Generations Of Jazz Guitar Tune Up For Father's Day Bucky Pizzarelli and his son, John, have been collaborating since John was a kid. They perform live in NPR's studios.

Two Generations Of Jazz Guitar Tune Up For Father's Day

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It's Father's Day weekend. Instead of getting another tie, we thought why not a slice of Jersey Pizzarelli?

JOHN PIZZARELLI: A little Avalon, boss?

BUCKY PIZZARELLI: Avalon? Who's playing the melody, me?


PIZZARELLI: All right. Here we go.


SIMON: That's Bucky and John Pizzarelli, who came to play for us this week in New York. Bucky's played with Benny Goodman, Zoot Sims, Stephane Grappelli, and many other musical giants. His son, John Pizzarelli has played with his own share of greats, including another guy from Jersey named Sinatra, and George Shearing.


SIMON: Father and son have recorded several duet albums together. You hear them playing now. Let's welcome them today in our studios that are on a small island right off the coast of New Jersey. Thanks very much for being with us.

PIZZARELLI: It's great to be here.

SIMON: John Pizzarelli, so, what's it like to grow up a Pizzarelli?

PIZZARELLI: It's a lot of fun. I mean, it's much better than if he had been a plumber. We'd be talking about pipe fittings.


PIZZARELLI: This guitar thing worked out really nicely.

SIMON: Well, I want you to know if there would be room for you too if you two wanted to talk about pipe fittings.

PIZZARELLI: Oh, by all means, I agree. It's more fun this way, the playing the music and making this kind of joyful noise is a lot of fun.

SIMON: Yeah. Bucky Pizzarelli, I mean, there's some kids who grow up as the son or daughter of a musician and, you know, often, the parent thinks I want you to be anything other than a musician.

PIZZARELLI: Oh, no. When I heard him play the guitar, I said that's it.

SIMON: How old was he when you heard him play?

PIZZARELLI: About nine, I think. And, you know, he never bought a guitar in his life. He used all mine.


SIMON: Yeah, well, they were there.

PIZZARELLI: It's cheaper that way.

SIMON: Yes. Now, I've also read in some accounts that there was a time when you actually called the cops 'cause you couldn't stop him from playing.

PIZZARELLI: Well, that's when he had a rock and roll band, you know, and they played so loudly that the cops were here every time.

PIZZARELLI: We just needed to be heard in the next county.

SIMON: So, John Pizzarelli, who can recall seeing, I don't know, in your kitchen?

PIZZARELLI: Oh, tenor saxophone player Zoot Sims and, well, Benny Goodman. I never saw him in the kitchen. I saw him the living room. That's as far as I got, then I was told to go back upstairs. Joe Pass ate lunch with us.


PIZZARELLI: Joe Venuti also was fantastic.


PIZZARELLI: Slam Stewart - all the musicians who came through were the top guys in the world. So, when you met a musician who played that style of music - swing jazz - and played so great, that's the only thing you wanted to do. You wanted to learn their language, and their language was "Avalon," you know. So, that was the key. And everybody always says, oh, it's old music. It's, for me, it's a style and it's been played so greatly you wouldn't want to not play this music. It's just having heard people like Benny Goodman, Zoot Sims and Bucky Pizzarelli and Les Paul in our house, you know. It's just amazing.

SIMON: Les Paul - did he bring 100 guitars with him or what's the number that he...

PIZZARELLI: He took a few out of the house.


SIMON: Light-fingered Les Paul. May I ask right before Father's Day: I wonder if music ever helped the two of you get through any rough passages than every family has.

PIZZARELLI: That's true. I think music is the answer, the best medicine for anybody. When we play, we're in a different world. And the minute we put the guitars away, we became enemies.


PIZZARELLI: I don't know if we become enemies, but I think there's something to be said about, you know, I think that we're on the same wavelength musically when we play together. So, it's fun to go on a bandstand with my father and know that if I say you want to play for another hour, he'll say let's play for two hours. You know, there's always the idea that making music, no matter where we are, is a lot of fun.

SIMON: You guys both play seven-string guitars?

PIZZARELLI: Yes, yeah.

SIMON: What does that do that a six-string can't, besides from confuse you.

PIZZARELLI: Well, it gives us a bass note. So, we have this:


PIZZARELLI: That's the regular guitar with the low A.


PIZZARELLI: So, instead of playing...




PIZZARELLI: So, on "Avalon," which you heard earlier, you hear...


PIZZARELLI: can play a bass note. It's perfect for accompanying. So, he can accompany me and I can accompany him and you have the lower notes that you don't have on the regular guitar.

SIMON: Could I get you to tell us the definitive version of the Van Cliburn story?


PIZZARELLI: Well, we were playing at the Pierre Hotel. It was my first gig with my father, and about quarter to 11 at night, 12 people came in to an empty Cafe Pierre - relatively empty - and wanted to hear us play. And the maitre d' was like on a Thursday night in August, he wanted us out, you know, at 11 o'clock. He didn't want anybody staying too late. So, we left, and as we were leaving, a man from the Cliburn party followed us out. And he said: You gentlemen would like to play another hour or so for us? You know, I had Van Cliburn at my table. Which is weird he talked like that 'cause everybody's from Texas.


PIZZARELLI: And so he said I'm willing to give each one of you $100. And as he said $100, each grabbed $100 bill and we ran him over and went back in and we started to play away and played for about 45 minutes. And then we stood up and the 12 people stood up and applauded us. And Van Cliburn said how do you two know each other? And my father said, that's my kid. And so Van Cliburn turned to a woman who was sitting next to him and said, Mother, they're father and son. And she went, oh, father and son. And she came over and shook my father's hand and kissed him, and everybody was hugging and kissing. And we said good night. We left the room. And my father was laughing from the time we packed up the guitars all the way till we got to the car. He was (laughing). And when we got in the car, I said, well, I'm not going to start the car until you tell me why you've been laughing so hard. And he said the mother gave me another 100.


SIMON: I got to say, by the way, it sounds like you do a pretty good impersonation of your father.


PIZZARELLI: I've been working on it for a long time.

SIMON: John, we'd like to play a little bit of what's been called your signature song.

PIZZARELLI: Oh, "I Like Jersey Best"?

SIMON: That's it.


PIZZARELLI: (Singing) Betting halls, shopping malls, good ole Rutgers U., 47 shoe stores line Route 22. The Meadowlands, the root beer stands, Main Street Hackensack. I may leave for a week or two but I'm always coming back. The Pinelands and the Vinelands, Seaside Heights, Margate, and you can have Miami, I love the Garden State. Been a lot of places, seen pictures of the rest, but of all the places I can think of, I like Jersey best. And now, of course, the Paul Simon version. Whoa, we have horses, Princeton courses, gas stations, we have scores...

SIMON: I'm from Illinois and I'm deeply moved.

PIZZARELLI: That was the idea.

SIMON: Yeah, that's extraordinary. So, way before - maybe not way - in addition to Bruce Springsteen, is there a Jersey sound when it comes to jazz and swing?

PIZZARELLI: Well, you know, a lot of guitar players are from New Jersey - George Ben - a lot of great jazz musicians - Bill Evans, George van Epps. I don't know if there's a Jersey sound, but it's combined with garlic and oil for the Italians, which my father's uncles were fierce banjo players. And we always said time waits for no one. When they played, it was always...


PIZZARELLI: They played fierce. They were...


PIZZARELLI: So, you had to jump on the train or the train left the station.

SIMON: Bucky Pizzarelli, you're 87.

PIZZARELLI: Eighty-seven, and I'm always the oldest guy in the band wherever I go.

PIZZARELLI: It's fun driving into New York. He points to all the places we played at. You know, we came down 44th Street today. He goes there's the Hudson Theater. I was with Kate Smith there in 19 - what year?


PIZZARELLI: And what year were you at that hotel where you pointed - it's the other hotel, you said.

PIZZARELLI: Oh, the Lincoln. I never played there but all the big bands played there.

PIZZARELLI: Right. But he always points to where - and you played the Commodore, right?

PIZZARELLI: Commodore, yeah, with Volman Rose Band.

PIZZARELLI: What year was that?


PIZZARELLI: Right - '44.

PIZZARELLI: I got drafted out of that hotel.


SIMON: My gosh.

PIZZARELLI: Yeah, it's amazing.

SIMON: I'm stupefied. When you play music, are you 87?

PIZZARELLI: No. Really. I don't even think about 87.

PIZZARELLI: He's the oldest guy in the bandstand and when he plays he's the youngest guy in the room.

SIMON: Gosh. So, what's the secret to being a good father?

PIZZARELLI: Oh, I don't know. I leave them alone. I never bug them about anything.

SIMON: Feel that way to you, John?

PIZZARELLI: I just have to look at them and they know what I'm thinking.


PIZZARELLI: He ruled with a heavy hand. We knew not to make trouble, or there'd be trouble. But in the long run, I think we learned all the right things. And I, you know, I mean, there's a reason he's 87 still playing on a bandstand and being so well-respected. You know, he took care of himself amidst all the other musicians who are no longer with us. He's still a brilliant musician and a good father and - but also knew the right things: a jacket and tie on the bandstand at all times and get to the airport early.

SIMON: Well, that can be a great lesson.

PIZZARELLI: It is. It's a great lesson.

SIMON: May I share with you my father, who was a comedian, the wisest thing he said to me? Think Yiddish, dress British.



SIMON: That's sort of like the jazz credo: if you look sharp you'll B sharp, right?

PIZZARELLI: That's right.


SIMON: Well, we're lucky you're going to play us out on something, right? What are you going to play for us?

PIZZARELLI: We're going to play one of our great duets. It's sort of a Les Paul tribute we play. "It's Been a Long, Long Time" and "Don't Take Your Love from Me."

SIMON: By the way, Bucky's going to be on the left side of your stereo; John on the right. Gentlemen.


SIMON: Bucky and John Pizzarelli are playing in our studios right across from the coast of New Jersey. You can hear them perform two full songs on our website, This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Happy Father's Day. I'm Scott Simon.

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