Johnny Guarnieri

John AlbertJohnnyGuarnieri (March 23, 1917 – January 7, 1985) was an American jazz and stride pianist, born in New York City.

Guarnieri joined the George Hall orchestra in 1937. He is perhaps best known for his big band stints with Benny Goodman in 1939 and with Artie Shaw in 1940. Guarnieri is also noted for his embellishment and juxtaposition of jazz with classical piano, such as Scarlatti and Beethoven.

Throughout the 1940s Guarnieri was a busy sideman, recording with artists such as Charlie Christian, Cozy Cole, Ike Quebec, Charlie Kennedy, Hank D’Amico and Ben Webster. He also led his own group called the „Johnny Guarnieri Swing Men“ and recorded with them on the Savoy label, a group that included Lester Young, Hank D’Amico, Billy Butterfield and Cozy Cole. He also led a trio in the 1940s composed of himself, Slam Stewart and Sammy Weiss, recording again for Savoy. During the 1940s he also recorded for the short-lived Majestic label, playing solo piano and with his trio.

In the 1940s he also played harpsichord in a small band made up of musicians from Shaw’s band; his solos were the first recorded on that instrument in jazz.

In 1949 Guarnieri recorded an album with June Christy entitled June Christy & The Johnny Guarnieri Quintet. In his later years Guarnieri shifted more toward jazz education. In commemoration of his reputation as a teacher, Guarnieri’s students financed a label for him called „Taz Jazz Records“. In the 1970s Guarnieri recorded numerous albums on his new label, and until 1982 worked at the „Tail of the Cock“ nightclub in Studio City, California. In the early 1980s, Guarnieri recorded Johnny Guarnieri Plays Duke Ellington on a Bösendorfer Grand „SE“ player piano, for the Live-Performance Jazz Series.

Guarnieri was based in Los Angeles later in his life, but traveled to the East Coast to play a concert in January 1985. He played at the Vineyard Theatre at East 26th Street in New York City on January 6, but had to stop at the intermission because of dizziness. He went to a friend’s house to rest, but was admitted to St Barnabas hospital in Livingston, New Jersey the following day, where he died following a heart attack.

He was survived by his wife, Jeanne, six children, and 18 grandchildren.