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.


AIR FORCE DAYS


I never really considered myself to be a professional musician until I started playing with the U.S. Air Force band. I had played weddings and stuff, but I didn't join the musician's union until 1956, when I got out of the service.

In 1952, after being in the Air Force for about eight months, I auditioned for the band. It was the only authorization for a guitarist in the Air Force, and I got the gig. We did a lot of recruiting broadcasts.

There was also an official Air Force cocktail group, 'The Crew Chiefs.' It consisted of an accordion, clarinet, bass, drums and piano. The group was very good, we had nothing to do but rehearse! We did some touring and recruiting, and ended up doing one of the Bob Hope U.S.O. shows in Greenland, in 1955. We also did the Steve Allen Show in L.A. It was a good learning experience.

CHICO HAMILTON QUINTET

When I got out of the service, I came back to New York with the intention of attending the Manhattan School of Music. At the time, they did not accept guitar as a major instrument, so I would have had to study piano, or something else. Shortly before I started, I received a call from Paul Horn, the saxophone player, whom I had met in Washington, D.C. He was in the Army band while I was in the Air Force.

Paul had started working with Chico Hamilton's band. He informed me that Jim Hall was about to leave the band, and he had Chico bring me out to California to audition. I joined the band and ended up staying out here in California.

We had a cello player in Chico's band by the name of Fred Katz, and you might call, what we were doing at the time a 'chamber jazz' quintet. Jim had written some marvelous arrangements for the group, and they could be very difficult. Fred, who had a lot of classical training and did a lot of writing, also heavily influenced the band. So, it tended to lean in that direction.

We did the music to the movie THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS with Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster, which has become sort of a cult movie. We also appeared in the documentary JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY. During that time, Paul had left the band and I had an opportunity to work with his replacement Eric Dolphy for about eight months.

When I was working with Chico in Pittsburgh, there was this young guitar player who used to come into the club, and I gave him some ideas and various things to work on. As it turned out, it was George Benson. Much later, George mentioned my name in an article in DOWNBEAT magazine and also on the back of one of his record albums, saying that I was one of the people who had helped him along early in his career. He certainly has come a long way!

DECCA RECORDS AND BILLY BEAN

Fred Katz left Chico's band around the same time that I did. He ended up having some type of position with Decca Records, and he intended on doing a bunch of albums under the title of 'mood jazz.' I had thought about going back to New York again, but I realized that I had more contacts on the west coast, so I stayed here.

I started studying at Los Angels City College, with a wonderful teacheer, composer conductor Leonard Stein, who was a protoge of Arnold Schoenberg. I took all the courses that I could from him, but I started getting a lot of work, to the point of having to drop out of school.

I did some sessions with Fred, and in 1958 recorded two albums of duets with Billy Bean. They were titled MAKIN' IT and TAKE YOUR PICK.

As I recall, Billy and I first got together in Philadelphia. We (The Chico Hamilton Quintet) were playing there and Billy came into the club where we were playing. He had a guitar under his arm, and we played a little. His playing was spectacular. It's the way I always thought I'd wanted to play. I said to myself, "I think I'll let this guy hang around!

As far as I was concerned, Chuck Wayne was my idol. You'll hear a lot of Chuck in some of those things, because I used a lot of sweep picking. Then I started realizing that I wanted to get more of that definition in the way that Billy did. So, I practiced that 'up and down' style of picking, so I could get more attack, more definition, more of an eighth note feel.

Billy asked me one day when we were playing, "What do you think about when you play? I said, I don't know. What do you think about? He said, "I think about Charlie Parker." If Billy were to come back on the scene today, playing the way he was capable of, he would devastate a lot of people. He was one of the best.