Pizzarelli began his professional career at 17 when he joined the Vaughn Monroe dance band in 1944. Near the end of World War II, while in Austria as an infantryman fulfilling wartime military service for the Army, Pizzarelli was absent from Monroe’s band (though he rejoined the outfit in 1946 and played for another five years with them). While in the military, he played in an unauthorized dance band.
In 1952 Pizzarelli became a staff musician for NBC, playing with Skitch Henderson. In 1964, he became a member of the Doc Severinsen band on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. During his time spent performing for the Tonight Show, Pizzarelli accompanied guest bands and musicians playing through a variety of musical genres, even playing with Tiny Tim (after tuning the performer’s ukulele) on the day that Tiny Tim married Miss Vicki on Carson’s show. While self-professedly not a big fan of rock and roll, Bucky performed on seven hits with Dion and the Belmonts during this period.
From 1956–1957, Pizzarelli, using the stage name “Johnny Buck,” performed with The Three Suns pop music trio. He toured several times off and on with Benny Goodman up and until 1986, the year of Goodman’s death. Beginning in the 1970s, Pizzarelli began recording as a leader, performing many tributes to musicians of the 1930s era. Bucky has performed at the White House in Washington, D.C. with artists such as Benny Goodman, two performances for President Ronald Reagan and one for President Bill Clinton. He also played a private birthday party for former First Lady Pat Nixon at her home.
“Jersey Jazz Guitars” was the name of a 1985 concert held at the Rutgers University Nicholas Music Center in New Brunswick. The ticket featured Bucky, Les Paul, Tal Farlow, and Bucky’s son John. The concert was aired on New Jersey’s PBS station as part of their 3-part New Jersey Summerfare Series. Bucky and Les Paul had performed together before with one another, as they were neighbors and cordial friends. The show aired for one hour in August 1985, with son John adding his vocals on two selections.