Pizzarelli, an Italian American, was born in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. During childhood, Pizzarelli was a counselor at the now defunct Knights Day Camp. He grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey and attended Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, New Jersey, an all-boys Roman Catholic High School. He frequently expresses pride about being from New Jersey; a fan favorite at his live shows is the Cosgriff-Bernardi number I Like Jersey Best, a largely humorous tribute to the Garden State.
John Pizzarelli, the world-renowned jazz guitarist and singer, was called “Hip with a wink” by Town & Country, “madly creative” by the Los Angeles Times and “the genial genius of the guitar” by The Toronto Star. When he performs with his wife, singer/actress Jessica Molaskey, and his father, guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli, they were labeled “the First Family of Cool” by the San Francisco Chronicle and “the von Trapps on Martinis” by The New Yorker. According to The New York Times, “the Pizzarelli-Molaskey duo are as good as it gets in any entertainment medium.”
After his recent smash success with the Boston Pops, he was hailed by the Boston Globe for “reinvigorating the Great American Songbook and re-popularizing jazz.” And the Seattle Times called him “a tour de force” and “a rare entertainer of the old school.” Before a recent show in the northwest, the local paper quipped “John Pizzarelli is so impossibly cool, he shouldn’t be legally allowed to enter Oregon.”
Pizzarelli slowly eased out of his father's shadow, finding success in the early 1980s with the release of I'm Hip—Please Don't Tell My Father with Stash Records. Two more recordings with Stash followed. This gradually led to more recognition and recordings based on his own merit. Trying something new in the late 1980s, he led a rock band called Johnny Pick and his Scabs, but soon found his way back to jazz.
In 1990 Pizzarelli pulled together his first trio and produced the album My Blue Heaven, with his brother Martin on double bass and Ken Levinsky on piano. Showing his admiration for the Nat King Cole trio, Pizzarelli's group also performed without drums.
Throughout the 1990s Pizzarelli toured with the legendary singer Rosemary Clooney, and he recorded with her on the album Brazil. In 1993 the John Pizzarelli Trio was selected to tour with Frank Sinatra. By this time Ray Kennedy had replaced Ray Levinsky on piano. Pizzarelli told International Musician, "Every night we got to hear that great music. We were like school kids each night watching Mr. Sinatra's limo drive away. We had so much fun." Working with Sinatra was the fulfillment of a dream for Pizzarelli, and the trio later took part in a celebration of Sinatra's 80th birthday at Carnegie Hall.