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Guitar Night marks a milestone for John Pisano

Pisano keeps jazz alive at Lucy's 51.

September 21, 2012|By Kirk Silsbee
  • Musician John Pisano poses for the camera at his home in Studio City.
Musician John Pisano poses for the camera at his home in… (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff…)

Selflessness is not a quality one often associates with artists. After all, creative people have their personal visions and usually spend their careers trying to get other people to help them realize those aspirations. Jazz guitarist John Pisano, known as a musician’s musician, is universally regarded as an empathetic player. That collaborative gene has served the Los Angeles jazz community well. The weekly Guitar Night he’s hosted will mark its 15th anniversary this Tuesday at Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake. It’s a milestone worthy of note.

The popular Tuesday night showcase has had several homes (Papashon, Rocco, Spazio’s, Vitello’s) since the 81-year-old Pisano founded it in 1997. It’s been an ongoing focal point for jazz guitarists of all stripes, and his efforts have fostered a sense of community among guitarists. Virtually every local jazz guitarist has duetted with Pisano.

“We took it to Birdland in New York a couple of years ago,” Pisano says proudly from his Studio City home. “George Benson and all of the New York guys came in and we were sold out every night.”

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Last March Pisano installed Guitar Night at Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake, a popular lunch-dinner-and-drinks destination. He’s had management construct a bandstand and invest in a sound system. “They’ve been very accommodating,” he smiles.

Pisano first gained national interest when he joined the Chico Hamilton Quintet in 1957. Fred Katz played cello in the band and wrote and arranged much of the music. “John a lot of technique and facility,” he relates from his home in Fullerton, “but I loved that he was so lyrical. I wrote a piece and there was a place where I didn’t know what to do. I gave eight bars over to John and he played such a beautiful melodic solo that I wish I had written it.”

Putter Smith, whose older brother, Carson, was the Hamilton Quintet bassist, has played bass at some of the Guitar Nights. “I’ve known John for 55 years,” he offers, “and I’ve worked more with him in the last two years than ever before. He’s a very deep player and his generosity of spirit shows in the way he supports other musicians.”

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