Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, June 10, 1999

UHM Outreach College
Laila Del Monte performs to the guitar work of her
husband, flamenco guitarist Adam Del Monte, Saturday.

Master of the jazz guitar

By Burl Burlingame


For a guy who still sticks close to his Paterson, N.J., birthplace, guitarist John "Bucky" Pizzarelli has managed to travel all over the world. Except Hawaii.

"We saw Hawaii pass by from the troopship in 1945, on our way to the Philippines," said Pizzarelli. "We just sort of waved at the islands."

Pizzarelli will be holding guitar workshops and performing as part of the annual Hawai'i Guitar Festival hosted by the Outreach College of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

A jazz master whose career runs in a straight line from the postwar Vaughn Monroe Orchestra to session and television work to headlining jazz concerts to appearing with Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra at the White House, Pizzarelli is known for his seamless rhythm syncopations with a band and his deliberate, delicate melody playing on his own.

That's prime Pizzarelli, for example, on the samba-like guitar signature of Janis Ian's "At Seventeen."

"I picked up a guitar and learned some chords at about 9," he recalls, long-distance. "I had two uncles that played guitar and banjo in jazz bands, and I thought that was tremendous. They showed me some style.

"I went on to playing with a band, and I just love the four-instrument rhythm of a band that swings -- piano, bass, drums, guitar. It should sound like one instrument.

"I had to learn to play more leads, like a sax player, as I became more proficient. When it comes to performing, I like everything structured -- songs should have a beginning, an end, and a middle. You can be flexible in the middle part. Within limits."

The guitar appealed to Pizzarelli because it was so portable. "You can carry it around. Can't do that with a piano. In the Army in Germany, I had to leave it locked up in Cologne, and when I came back, it was still there."

"When we were stationed in the Philippines, we played music every day. Everyone who could play joined in -- well, there was nothing else to do in the Philippines except play basketball -- and when you get a little group going, you're always in demand."

His first guitar was a Gibson L50 archtop, the type he still savors for its ringing, warm tones. "Gibson and Epiphone, those were the guitars in those days," said Pizzarelli.

"Epiphone was right up there on 14th Street in New York. They had master craftsmen. They knew the secret. Their guitars have a great quality."

Pizzarelli still uses an older Epiphone for recording. Today, however, he primarily plays custom-made Benedettos, specially constructed with -- get this! -- seven, not six, strings. "Benedettos have a round, nice thick sound. Nothing thin about them. Modern guitars sound too thin, too clipped."

His guitars have internal condenser microphones for preforming live, but he prefers an external microphone when recording.

"It's really something to own fine guitars like these. You really grow attached to them, like family. I have this great, indestructible case for shipping one on an airliner. Nothing can happen to it."

He has four of the custom Benedettos, or had. Pizzarelli's son John, a noted guitarist in his own right, stopped by and borrowed one right before the interview.

Did he have to leave his driver's license?

"Nah," laughed Pizzarelli. "I know where he lives."

Have ticket, will travel, for guitar music

Can't make the Hawaii Guitar Festival all-star concert Sunday night on Kauai? The Maui edition of the Bankoh Ki Ho'alu Slack Key Guitar Festival occurs noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Kahului.

If you're good with airline schedules, you could make both festivals.

The second of four concerts in this year's series, the Maui festival features Kevin and Ikaika Brown, Pekelo Cosma, Jim West, Matthew Swalinkavich, Martin Pahinui, Dennis and David Kamakahi, Ledward Kaapana, Brother Noland, Cyril Pahinui, Michael Kaawa, George Kuo and Kaoru Konoike.

Free. Information: 239-4336.

Hawai'i Guitar Festival

Along with John Pizzarelli's appearances, the University of Hawaii-Manoa's Outreach College event features:

Bullet John Tennant: Founder of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet performs, 8 p.m. today, Orvis Auditorium, $12-$15.
Bullet Adam and Laila Del Monte: Flamenco guitarist (Adam) and flamenco dancer (Laila) perform, 8 p.m. Saturday, Orvis Auditorium, $12-$15.
Bullet Classical guitar workshop: With John Tennant. Lecture and demonstration, 1-4 p.m. tomorrow, UH-Manoa Music Building, Room 108, $30.
Bullet Information: For all events, 956-7221 or via the Internet at

John 'Bucky' Pizzarelli

Bullet Jazz guitar workshop: 1-4 p.m. Saturday, University of Hawaii-Manoa Music Building, Room 108, $30.
Bullet In concert: With Byron Yasui, 8 p.m. tomorrow, Orvis Auditorium, UH-Manoa, $12-$15
Bullet On Kauai: With Scott Tennant and Adam del Monte, 7 p.m. Sunday, Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center, $12-$15
Bullet Information: For all events, 956-7221 or via the Internet at

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin