Born: February 6, 1931 Primary Instrument: Guitar
John Pisano began his musical career on the East Coast playing the piano. At age 14 he took up the guitar. Later, in the 1950’s, he entered the service where he played guitar with the Air Force Band. Upon leaving the Air Force, he followed Howard Roberts and Jim Hall into the guitar chair in the Chico Hamilton quintet and his first significant recordings were made with Hamilton. The recordings, Chico Hamilton Quintet (1957) and South Pacific (1958) were especially noteworthy examples of Pisano’s already advanced comping, rhythm and single string solo techniques.
Throughout the later 1950’s, Pisano recorded with members of the Hamilton band, mainly Paul Horn and Fred Katz. Pisano’s work with Fred Katz was a natural extension of the Hamilton organization in style and format. The Katz recordings always included some intricate solos, supporting comping and rhythm by Pisano. Especially notable were Fred Katz and His Jammers and 4,5,6 Trio.
It was also in 1958 that John Pisano and Billy Bean recorded two albums for Decca, Makin' It and Take Your Pick. Guitar duos were not new in 1958, but the combination of Pisano and Bean, both powerful bebop players, was a new extension of this format. The intricate interplay of Bean and Pisano set a new standard for jazz guitar duets and these recordings became cult items. Both recordings presented exceptional examples of John Pisano’s single string solos, rhythm and comping. One of the best examples, in the simplest terms possible, may have been The Song Is You from Makin' It. This tune was presented in the format of two guitars and bass and was played at an exceptionally brisk tempo. The instrumentation left little room for error and also made it easy to hear both guitarists at all times. This one track makes it clear that John Pisano was every bit Billy Bean’s equal as a single string soloist and supporting player.
Despite these exceptional accomplishments as a soloist, Pisano favored and chose the role as supporting player. In his own words, the background was his “comfort zone”. His skills as a comping and rhythm player made him the perfect match for Joe Pass who was already a formidable bebop soloist when the two met in the early 1960’s. Their first recording together, For Django was just the first of many excellent recordings from this long relationship, culminating in Duets in 1991. This recording was as much a showcase for Pisano’s backing skills as it was for Pass’ soloing skills.
John Pisano’s work with Hamilton and Katz established him as a significant guitarist and arranger as well as an integral component of the Los Angeles jazz scene. Over the years, he recorded and played with Page Cavanaugh, Buddy Defranco, Bud Shank, Jimmy Guiffre, Peggy Lee, Benny Goodman and many, many others. The discographies show that Pisano performed on hundreds of sessions between 1960 and 2002 including Howard Roberts’ Goodies recording. Pisano’s greatest commercial success came with the Herb Alpert band. He played and recorded for many years with Alpert and published some of his own compositions while with the band.
Although he chose the role of supporting player, John Pisano has left an indelible mark on the history of jazz guitar. His early progressive solo work with Hamilton and Katz were the West Coast equals of the work being done by Joe Cinderella and Lou Mecca. His unerring musicianship and good taste supported some of the best jazz instrumentalists of the last century.
Today John Pisano continues to influence the jazz guitar community and further the value of jazz guitar with his fabled Guitar Nights and his duet recordings Among Friends, Conversation Pieces, Affinity with Ray Walker and Homage with Adrian Ingram.