ELKHART — When jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli was growing up, musicians were always coming to his house to visit his father, longtime Elkhart Jazz Festival performer Bucky Pizzarelli.
For years, the jazz festival in downtown Elkhart has been a musical home away from home for Bucky, a New Jersey guitarist who will be returning once again this weekend, but this year is extra special. His son, John, will be headlining the festival with a concert at 8 p.m. Friday, June 21, at the Lerner Theatre and two shows Saturday, June 22, one at 2 p.m. at the Lerner’s Crystal Ballroom and another at 9:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus hall.
This year’s jazz festival will be New Yorker John Pizzarelli’s first time playing in Elkhart.
“I’ve heard a lot of great things about the festival from my father and other musicians,” he said. “I know a lot of people who are going to be there performing, and I think it will be great to meet up with a bunch of musicians over the weekend.”
John said his father was a major influence on his decision to pursue a career in music. He was also drawn to the camaraderie among the jazz musicians.
“My father’s friends, all of these musicians, were so much fun to be around, but the only way you would get to hang out with them was to be a musician and know their language,” John said. “Their language was music. It was ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and ‘Avalon.’ It was ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Satin Doll.’”
A self-taught guitarist, Bucky toured from coast to coast and worked as a staff musician for NBC and ABC. He has played alongside world-renowned musicians including Les Paul and Benny Goodman among others.
Though John had some musical training here and there, he mainly learned to play the guitar by listening to records and playing music with his father. When he was a kid, musicians would show up at his family’s doorstep for jam sessions with his father, and it was those experiences that would later influence John’s musical style.
The John Pizzarelli Quartet, which includes piano, bass, guitar and drums, plays jazz standards from the late 1920s and contemporary music including songs by Ira and George Gershwin, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, The Beatles and Neil Young. John Pizzarelli’s setlists at the Elkhart Jazz Festival will also feature a few songs from his latest album, “Double Exposure.”
“It combines pop songs from when I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s with jazz of the ’50s and ’60s,” John Pizzarelli said. “It’s a pretty imaginative little record that we put together.”
John said he hopes to share the stage with his father at least once during the festival before heading back to New York on Sunday, June 23. John and his band will be leaving Tuesday, June 25, for a three-week tour of Europe.
Bucky has four sets scheduled with fellow guitarist Ed Laub at the Elkhart Jazz Festival. The pair will play at 9 p.m. Friday, June 21, at the Knights of Columbus hall, and on Saturday, June 22, they will perform at 1 p.m. at 227 S. Main St. and again at 3:30 p.m. at the Crystal Ballroom in the Lerner Theatre. Their last show will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 23, at 227 S. Main St.