John Pisano has been formally recognized as one of the nation’s finest guitarists. He has an extremely diverse background, having emerged on the jazz scene in the mid-50′s, first recording in 1958 and 1959 with the legendary Billy Bean and a two-year stint with drummer Chico Hamilton (which at one time featured the innovative reedist Eric Dolphy). Even if his name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, odds are that you’ve heard his guitar work. Although John has occasionally stepped forward to lead his own group, for years his “comfort zone” was the background and John became an active member of the Los Angeles studio scene, adding his special touch to groups let by Buddy DeFranco, Red Norvo, Bud Shank and Benny Goodman. Additionally, John has accompanied in concert or recording some of music’s biggest names, including Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Burt Bacharach, Frank Sinatra, Michael Franks, Clare Fischer, Julie London, Bobby Troup, Natalie Cole, Joe Pass Barbra Streisand and Diana Krall. John is a founding member of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and obtained some solid Brazilian experience working with Sergio Mendes. In the last several years, however, Pisano has assumed the leader’s role, releasing a series of Pablo CD’s remarkable for their beauty and musical camaraderie. “Among Friends” was the first, featuring him in duet settings with six of the instrument’s most talented players: Lee Ritenour, Phil Upchurch, Ron Affif, Dori Caymmi, the late Ted Greene, and the late Joe Pass, with whom John had worked extensively for three decades and released more than a dozen albums together (Pass died on May 23, 1994). Pass was also heard on “Duets”, which focused on empathic guitar conversations recorded at a 1991 Pisano/Pass session.

His subsequent album, the Pablo release, “Conversation Pieces”, includes wonderfully varied material from 1994 and ’95 recordings with, once again, Lee Ritenour, Phil Upchurch, Ted Greene, and Dori Caymmi, as well as Joe Diorio and Gene Bertoncini. Eric Miller, who was Pass’s producer in the guitarist’s final years, has also produced all of Pisano’s dates for the label. Most recently, John was featured on Natalie Cole’s album, entitled “Ask A Women Who Knows” and Diana Krall’s platinum recording “The Look Of Love” and the Grammy winning “Live In Paris” available both as a CD and a DVD.

John hosts (and performs at)”John Pisano’s Guitar Night” held Tuesdays at the Sherman Oaks, California club Spazio. This weekly series, which will celebrate its 6th anniversary on September 23, 2003, features a wide range of guitarists and attracts the elite of the L.A. jazz scene. Additionally, John has worked several times at the popular Zinc Bar in lower Manhattan and will be performing this October (2003) at Birdland.

John joined ‘The Great Guitarists’ series with the likes of Gene Bertoncini, Philip Catherine, Herb Ellis and Mundell Lowe on tours of Germany and Italy where they performed to sell-out crowds.

John is the current spokesman and chief endorser for Eastman Guitars and has developed the “John Pisano” Signature Model for Eastman. For nearly 40 years, John Pisano’s playing has provided a model for improvisational creativity, technical excellence, and a seamless blend of jazz and latin elements.

Today, John and his lovely vocalist wife, Jeanne perform together regularly, and are known as “The Flying Pisanos”. Both together and individually, John continues to perform throughout the nation and around the world with today’s biggest musical luminaries.

Peggy Lee 1965

I was doing a lot of work around L.A. with people like Frank Rosolino. We had a trio with Frank on trombone, a bass player and myself on guitar. I did some stuff with Buddy Collette, Bud Shank, and a little later, Red Norvo's trio for some gigs. I also did some work with Page Cavanaugh.

I met Peggy Lee through the bass player, Max Bennett, and I ended up working with her for many years. We toured all over, doing Basin Street East, Chicago, I did a tour in Florida with her, and all over Japan!

She used a large orchestra most of the time, and she ultimately ended up roping me into conducting for her, too. It was some difficult music, and I think that the only way I was able to get through it was because her piano player was able to instruct me, and tell me if what I was doing was right or wrong. I got proficient to the point where I was able to conduct the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for her. I also conducted a large orchestra with strings when she appeared at the Waldorf Astoria.

I had occasion to meet her ex-husband Dave Barbour, who was also a guitarist and orchestra leader, at her house one day. That was interesting. I grew up listening to a lot of his records. They had, of course, recorded together. The record scene was a lot different then. In those days, each artist would have a new release every month. So, you kind of had an idea that the new Nat King Cole record from Capitol might be coming in at the end of the month. You'd go down to the record store, and just wait and see what the next thing was going to be.


I originally worked with Benny and Peggy Lee at The Circle Star Theater, in the early sixties. There were so many weird stories circulating about Benny and how difficult he could be. He would give you this look with his eyes 'The Goodman Ray' they called it. if you did something he didnt like you would get 'the ray'.

I was working steadily with Peggy, and was fully prepared to tell him to get lost if he bugged me. On the contrary, he was quite easy to get along with. I started out playing with the big band, and that worked out to the point of him asking me to work with his quartet, as well. He obviously liked the way I played, and gave me solos and everything. If Benny gave you a solo, you knew he liked you!

I didnt hear from him for a while, until October 1979, when he called me to do some stuff. We did a tour up and down the west coast, and that year did the first Playboy Jazz Festival, at The Hollywood Bowl.

I'll tell you a funny story about Benny. He used to have me go to the piano each evening, to bring him an 'A' note on my guitar so he could tune up. So, he'd be fussing with his reeds, trying to find a decent one, and eventually he'd tune up and be ready to go on stage. One night, I came backstage to give him his 'A' and he was looking at my guitar. I was playing a Gibson ES-330 at the time. He looked up at me, and said, Tell the truth, John dont those wider guitars get a better sound? Afterwards, when we got back to L.A., I began using my ES-175 whenever I played with him.


After Peggy and Benny, I did a lot of stuff with Page Cavanaugh, and I was doing a lot of studio stuff. I had finally established myself in the studios. Then, one day, I got a call from Herb Alpert, who I sort of fluffed off at the time. I told him, "To be honest with you, I couldnt take your music seriously". I told him I'd work a couple of weeks with him, because I had some friends who were in the band, and I thought it would be fun to get out of town. His first two or three Tijuana Brass albums had been done with studio guys. Tommy Tedesco played guitar on them originally.

When it came time, that they wanted to do live performances, Herb had to put a real band together. By then, the albums were very successful. musically, I just couldn't get interested in it, but when we got off the road, he needed a tune for an album, which I wrote for him. When I got my first royalty check in the mail, it convinced me that I should take it much more seriously!

I joined him in the later part of 1967. That was a very good connection because aside from performing with The Tijuana Brass, and getting some tunes on their albums, I also recorded with a lot of artists who were on Herbs A&M record label. I did all of the early Sergio Mendes hits, and was doing some things with Burt Bacharach, as well. During that period, we were always traveling and recording. I was with Herb for about four years before the band folded. By the early seventies, studio work was becoming a little less lucrative, and a lot of people were complaining. If only they knew what it would be like today, it's almost non-existent!


I met Joe in 1962, when I had him sub for me in Page Cavanaugh's band, when I went out on tour with Peggy Lee. When I first met Joe, he was still at Synanon. The following year, he left and got married. At the time, he was already kind of a legend. He was very well known throughout guitar and jazz circles. I never knew him during the period that he was into the drug scene, although over the years he would tell me stories about himself then. Scary stuff!

When he became sober, and was working around town, he certainly was busy. I can't recall when I first heard his playing, maybe it was on the radio. I loved it! It made me think about Billy Bean and the influence he had on me. Joe, Billy, Wes Montgomery these are all guitar players who had an effect on me. Pat Martino, too! I guess he and Billy studied with the same guy in the Philadelphia area.

Joe and I did our first recording, FOR DJANGO, in 1964. We did well over a dozen albums together. I also co-produced his album WHITESTONE, which was a little more in the commercial vein.

We recorded an album called IRA, GEORGE & JOE in 1981. Joe played a 12-string guitar on that one. He was one of the few jazz guitarists to have experimented with those. I think he used my Fender on that one.

Fender used to send me a lot of guitars during the period when I was with The Tijuana Brass. I still have the electric 12-string that I used with them. It was one of the earliest prototype models. They actually called me while they were developing the instrument to see what I thought and check it out.

If we were doing a television special or something, and needed a particular color guitar. They send it over right away and with just cause! The Tijuana Brass was getting a lot of exposure at the time, and Fender would get a lot of exposure from it.

We did an album of movie themes together where we both played 12-strings, as well. The cover of that was another one of my 12 string guitars, a Gibson model. I bought it because they had become a necessity for studio work. I remember Barney Kessel complaining, "Now it's gonna be 12-strings. We will all have to go out and buy those darn things!" But that was the trend in the late sixties.

All the while I'd been bugging Joe to bring back the original quartet from the first album. I said, Let's do a Django II album. That became SUMMER NIGHTS, in 1989, with Jim Hughart on bass and Colin Bailey on drums. It really caught on to the point where people wanted to hear that group live. We ended up doing several tours, some to Japan. We had quite a bit more planned, but obviously with Joe's death, they never happened.


If I had to assess myself as a guitarist, I'd say that rhythm playing is my forte. I know that I can play solid rhythm. I try to break away from the conventional chord voicings. George Van Eps would tell you that you don't have to play a lot of notes to be effective. That's what I try to do. I really enjoy playing in the background.

When I played with Frank Capp's Juggernaut big band, I insisted on playing unamplified. That's the way a rhythm guitar should be played. It can be devastatingly hard work.

I had a wonderful conversation with Freddie Green a few years before he died. He was working with Count Basie's band at Disneyland. I sat about six feet away from Freddie and watched him play. I was looking at his strings, they were just so high! Of course, my first question was, "How do you play with the strings so high?" He thought about it a bit and said, "You know, it takes a long time to get used to it!"

He told me about a lot of the guitars that he had owned, and I guess from the way he played, they disintegrated and fell apart! He told me that he started out with an Epiphone, then moved on to a Stromberg, and finally ended up playing a Gretsch. I noticed the unique way he held his guitar, very flat. I thought about it a bit, and realized that the idea is, with the guitar like that, the way the pick hits the strings, it pushes the string down, as opposed to picking it in the traditional way. That's the theory behind getting a good sound out of the instrument. The concert guitar is the same way. I thought a lot about it, and found that I could really get the guitar to boom playing like that.