Bucky Pizzarelli’s Fingerstyle Recordings (1971-78)

Bucky with his Gretsch 7-String archtop guitar

Bucky’s book, The Romance Of The Chordal Guitar Sound

The forward:

Bucky Pizzarelli is one of the pioneers of modern guitar (jazz, swing, and pop), having been an active part of the recording, broadcasting, and entertainment industries from the 1940’s until his death in 2020. Among his many innovations and talents, were his contributions to the popular solo guitar style known as “chord melody.”

I’ve been reflecting on the title of his book recently, and the vision behind it.

The Romance of the Chordal Guitar Sound.

In the very early 1970’s, Bucky Pizzarelli witnessed George Van Eps playing the first production 7 string guitar, made by Gretsch. It had an additional low A string and Van Eps called the guitar a “lap piano,” as it more closely approximated the range of a piano on the lower end, and allowed one to play further up the neck without sacrificing the lower notes. Although he had already mastered the 6 string in many genres over the course of a successful career, Bucky watched Van Eps play this new invention… and something clicked. He immediately went out and bought the 7 string instrument, because he saw a new possibility. He took what Van Eps and others were doing, and began to develop his own take on it, a sound that is immediately appealing to the non-guitarist: virtuosity in service of the melody, in service of the romance. He is not the fanciest or most technically brilliant or fastest player, but I’d say that at times, especially when playing alone or in a duo setting, he might be the most beautiful sounding jazz guitar player. I love the image of Bucky doing solo gigs at small restaurants and hotel lounges, playing all the songs he knew, and using his big band experiences to produce mini-arrangements on guitar. Then George Barnes would stop by, or Zoot Sims, who lived around the corner from one of those places… and they would play these songs together, and then Bucky would work out the mistakes the next morning, and so on. Then came the duet albums with Barnes, Zoot, Bud Freeman, Doug Jernigan, Eddie Daniels, and Warren Vache. Bucky had a very distinctive accompaniment style, one which made good use of this extended range afforded by the low A string, laying down a solid foundation of bass and chords, but without fancy walking bass lines or syncopated comping  like Joe Pass was doing, and with very little of those single line runs that most of us associate with the most admired jazz guitar players. He often didn’t even take a solo. Rather, he supported whoever he was accompanying. And when he did play a song by himself, he would support the melody of the song itself, with minimal improvisation (though see below for later developments). A few of these solo renditions made their way into the recordings, as well as live concerts, and from the recordings I have heard, audiences went crazy for it. This evolution is what I see in those last 2 paragraphs of this preface to his little book. Jazz was going in all kinds of exciting directions during the 70’s. And Bucky was engaged in his own quiet, beautiful revolution.

Here I have collected a discography (with links to the music) of recordings made by Bucky between 1971-78, in which he was playing solo and accompaniment fingerstyle on his Gretsch. 1972 alone saw the release of at least three albums featuring Bucky playing in this style, and 4 solo tracks in total appear on these albums (see my youtube playlists for a detailed list of solo recordings).

In the late 70’s, he switched to a pick/thumb because of a hand injury, and soon after recorded the brilliant Love Songs album. Although I think Love Songs is his greatest solo album (and perhaps THE most beautiful solo jazz guitar album, taken as a whole), I’m really interested in his fingerpicking style, in terms of developing my own ability. Those who wonder what Love Songs might have sounded like had he played fingerstyle, can compare the solo tracks on the 1970’s recordings with his later thumb/plectrum interpretations of some of the same songs. I believe he played his Gretsch on all of these recordings, and did not switch to a Benedetto until after he had committed to thumb/plectrum playing. Below you will find links to all known recordings in which Bucky is playing fingerstyle, either solo or duo.

Note on the audio quality: I have posted links to YouTube, simply because it is the one platform that contains the most albums and tracks, and anyone can access them for free. Some of these albums are available on Spotify and iTunes, or on other streaming services (e.g. the live 1977 concerts). Some albums are LP releases which never made it to CD. If you want the best sound quality, purchasing the CD or LP is the way to go.

Select youtube playlists:

Solo Fingerstyle recordings:

Duet fingerstyle accompaniment

This project started as a Spotify playlist. Unfortunately, many of these recordings are not on Spotify, but I have compiled the available examples

Complete(ish) discography with links to the music
(links will be added and updated as I find them. Please send additional info if you have any)

Guitars Pure and Honest (1971, LP only), with George Barnes. Legend has it that Bucky went over to Barnes’s studio shortly after acquiring the Gretch 7 string, and they were both extremely happy with the combination. This album is the result of that early partnership.

Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, June/17/1971, Barnes and Bucky are the featured musical guest. I can’t find a clip of this online.

The Guitar album (1972, LP only), with George Barnes. Barnes and Pizzarelli are featured on only of the four sides of this 2-LP. The standout track is a Beatles medley. Bucky plays Eleanor Rigby solo, then they segue into a duo rendition of Here, There and Everywhere.

Green Guitar Blues (1972). Perhaps best known as a trio album (often combined with a second trio album “Cafe Pierre Trio”), he records three tracks solo, plus a medley that begins with a solo rendition of “Cry Me A River”). They are beautifully played and well-recorded, to exploit the full range of the 7 string guitar.

Blue Bossa (1972), with Eddie Daniels.
Bucky provides solid accompaniment, on classical as well as 7 string archtop. He records one solo track on this album, Two For The Road.

Nirvana (1974) (aka Somebody Loves Me, or Send in The Clowns), with Zoot Sims.
Three tracks really shine on this album, the first two being Come Rain or Come Shine, and Memories of You. Both are duets, and Bucky doesn’t take a solo on either of them. His accompaniments are masterful.
His beautiful solo rendition of Send In The Clowns is also an excellent example of what Bucky does best: Takes the more cerebral example of Ted Greene, and makes it into something that non-guitarists as well as guitarists can enjoy.

Bucky and Bud (1976, LP only), with Bud Freeman. Not a duo album, but about half the album is played duo, with full rhythm section songs between: see Easy To Love, I could Write a Book, You Took Advantage of Me, Exactly Like You, and Dinah

First Time Out (1976), with Warren Vache. A few tracks sound like they are played thumb/pick. Perhaps he was starting to make the switch?

Zoot Sims Live (June 10, 1977, 2 sets, streaming only) live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco (online only, via the Bill Graham archives). Beautiful solo and duo tracks can be found on this album, Even though live, with a few buried treasures. Bucky’s solo playing on this date is excellent. In set 2, “Slow Burning” is actually 3 solo tunes in a row (Slow Burning, Tangerine, and The Very Thought of You).
(note: this is a streaming platform, which requires a subscription to play the whole session through. But, if you click on an individual track, it will play the whole track, then you can click on the next one)
(set 1)

(set 2)

Zoot Sims with Bucky Pizzarelli. Classic Jazz label, 1976, LP only. A studio album with just Bucky and Zoot, mostly uptempo songs, with a nice mellow version of Willow Weep For Me at the end.

Zoot Sims, Live in Japan, 1977, 2 vols. (various tracks on Youtube)

Also, “Live in Yamagata” also 1977. Various tracks available on YouTube: e.g. The Very Thought of You, duet with Zoot on Soprano

Doug and Bucky (1978), with Doug Jernigan on pedal steel.
Bucky plays quite a few solo tunes on this album (Slow Burning, End of a Love Affair, Round Midnight), and it is instructive to compare these to his later thumb/pick recordings of the same songs. The CD transfer quality is lacking, and I’d be curious to know if the original LP sounds better.

Live in Nice, France, (1978). Invitation, duet with Lee Konitz. Notice here how Bucky starts and ends the song with a pick, but plays fingerstyle during the comping and his brief solo.
(Note: In this same concert, he plays The Very Thought of You entirely with a pick. The previous year, 1977, he played an almost identical arrangement fingerstyle at the San Francisco concert with Zoot Sims (linked above)

Special thanks to Edward Decker for details, and for inspiring me to learn more about Bucky’s life, teaching, and playing. His book of transcriptions, and Youtube videos are the best tools for emulating Bucky’s technique.

NEXT STEPS in solo improvisation (work in progress):

Soon after adopting a pick full-time, Bucky began to develop a new improvisational approach to solo guitar. This may develop into a separate page, but in the meantime, I will list a few examples of this approach, as I study them and try to emulate this in my own playing.

In a nutshell, it consists of using specific chord shapes that free up fingers to either explore chromatic movement, or additional chord tones and passing notes. He is not interested in extended single note lines (Joe Pass), but limits his improvisations to one or two bars, even while a chord is still ringing, or moving to the next chord. This is not necessarily unique for solo guitar, but Bucky’s use of this technique is. He seems to have borrowed some of this from earlier players, (Carl Kress?) who used such chromatic movement in their signature arrangements.

The End of a Love Affair. By examining three versions of this song, one can see a development of Bucky’s approach to improvising over the changes within a solo arrangement. Let’s proceed chronologically:

1976, from Doug & Bucky

1986, from Solo Flight

1999, from April Kisses

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Love Songs 1980, and April Kisses 1999)
This is an interesting comparison, because on the early version, he does not improvise beyond the melody, but on the later version, he employs his improvisatory technique over almost an entire chorus.

Here are some other examples of this approach to improvisation:

Blues Chromatique (Green Guitar Blues, 1972)

Slow Burning, and A Blues Serenade, (One Morning in May, 2001, Arboris)

Come Sunday (April Kisses)