Frank Dibussolo: “The Most Famous Guitarist You Never Heard Of” – Jazz Guitar Life Interview

During my formative years,  I guess my biggest jazz guitar influences were Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. Both produced the sound that I wanted, but both were different in their approach to the instrument and the music. What I learned from them was that each had a unique voice, and that was a revalation to me. That music could be a personal message, delivered by an artist who was immediately identified by his sound. 

Dr. Frank Dibussolo

“The Most Famous Guitarist You Never Heard Of…” is a quote taken from Dr. Frank Dibussolo’s interview below and he has a point! I had seen his name pop up from time to time in a few of the Facebook Jazz Guitar Groups I participate in but never anything more than that. Then one day he posted a clip of himself playing in a club and I knew right then and there that he needed to be featured on Jazz Guitar Life. He graciously agreed and below is his interview for you all to enjoy. Frank also participated in JGL’s Desert Island Pick series which you can check out by clicking here! It’s an entertaining and informative read so enjoy! 🙂

But first….

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…and now, on to the interview…

JGL: Thank you Frank for taking the time to talk to Jazz Guitar Life. First off, if we can get into a little background about you that would be great. How old are you?

FD: I am 71 years old.

JGL: And what geographical area do you reside in?

FD: I was born and raised in South Philadelphia but now make my home in Allentown, Pa.

JGL: Cool. For those who may not know you, could you give us an elevator pitch of who Frank Dibussolo is and then we’ll get into more detail as this interview unfolds.

FD: I am probably the most famous guitarist you never heard of! But seriously, I am a professional guitarist, and have been, for 59 years. I am passionate about the craft of Music and its education. Although I love jazz and performing it, I don’t consider myself solely a jazz player. I have had the good fortune of knowing and playing with some of the true giants in the guitar world. These men shaped my path on the instrument and life in general. Tal Farlow, Joe Pass, Mundel Lowe, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino, Bobby Rose, Howard Alden, Jack Wilkins, Vic Juris, Bob Devoe and Bucky Pizzarelli.

JGL: That’s great company to be in! Tell me, at what age did you first start playing the guitar and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz? How did you find your way to this particular music and instrument?

FD: In 1964, after seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s Show, and after hearing a glissando on guitar as the old game show Concentration went to commercial – I discovered that it was the great Tony Mottola who played that gliss – I began lessons. I was never drawn to the Rock Guitar sound but was in love with the tone of the amplified arch top.

JGL: Nice! Who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning, and have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years? Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)?

FD: Because I was drawn to the jazz guitar tone, I discovered players like Al Caiola, Joe Pass and then a pianist friend of mine, let me hear an album called Guitar Forms. Kenny Burrell! That record changed my life. It also led me to Charlie Christian and to Wes. I enjoyed the complexities of the Standard and Jazz repertoire over the more simple forms of the Pop music of the day.

JGL: When coming up as a young player, did you attend a formal educational institution or are you self taught? Was there one – or more – particular moments that opened the flood gates so to speak as you went about learning this music?

FD: My musical education during my elementary and high school years consisted of private lessons. I began at the Payne School of Music , studying the Mel Bay method, then on to a professional player, Ed Michaels. I found that I had an affinity to read music, a skill most of my guitar playing friends lacked. I then was accepted as a student of the great Philadelphia pedagog, Joe Sgro. I spent 3 years with him and learned the basis of theory, harmony, solfeggio and arranging for the guitar.

After that I went on to study with another Icon , Dennis Sandole. Dennis was considered THE authority on improvisation,  having taught the likes of the Heath Brothers,  John Coltrane and of course,  Pat Martino.

By the time I entered college, I was a Biology major at Widener University because my parents wanted me to go on to Med School, I began my studies with the renowned bassist, Al Stauffer. Al also taught Jimmy Bruno, we went to the same high school though he was two years behind me.

JGL: Very cool! And you do have the Dr. designation so your parents can’t complain…lol 🙂 In the same vein, who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?

FD: During my formative years, I guess my biggest jazz guitar influences were Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. Both produced the sound that I wanted, but both were different in their approach to the instrument and the music. What I learned from them was that each had a unique voice, and that was a revalation to me. That music could be a personal message, delivered by an artist who was immediately identified by his sound. 

And then I heard Pat Martino. 

JGL: ‘Nuff said! Similarly, has there been a major influence in your life who was not a guitarist and why?

FD: Philadelphia was a hotbed of virtuoso guitarists like the great Sonny Troy, Thornell Schwartz, Tom Giacabetti, Steve Giordano, Ed Flanagan, Bobby Rose and so many others! I had the good fortune to hang with Pat at Bobby Rose’s house. This was before Pat’s medical issues and Bobby was a neighbor. Pat was always encouraging but stressed the importance of one’s personal sound. Around this time, I was studying and playing with The bassist, Al Stauffer. Through him I met and played with the great French pianist Bernard Pieffer. My goal at the time was to play the guitar with the same intensity that he brought to the jazz piano.

JGL: Had you always wanted to by a working musician or did you come to your current standing in the Jazz World through a variety of circuitous paths?

FD: By this time I was through with the Med School plans and decided that professional music was the career I wanted to pursue. 

I was involved in the Society Band scene playing debutante parties, social affairs and the like with organizations such as Howard Lanning, Lester Lanning, Eddie Dutchin, Mark Davis, et.,al., and taking studio sessions playing jingle dates, record dates etc. I was also playing major show dates in the Atlantic City Casinos which led to major acts using me as part of their bands.

JGL: Nice! We’ll come back to that in a minute or two but I am curious, all the images I have seen of you, you are pictured with beautiful arch-tops. Would you mind sharing with us what guitars you use and what your amp set-up is like. Basically what would you take a gig?

FD: I have been very fortunate and humbled to be considered an endorser by a number of great luthiers, amplifier designers and string manufacturers. 

My current guitars are created by two of the most experienced, knowledgeable and artistic makers in the world! Frank Finocchio, of Easton, PA. designed and crafted my Signature 15″ blonde Via Strada arch top in 2009. He added  a nylon string on the same basic design in 2019. 

Tony DiDomenico,  of Central N.J. made my Fratello Mio in 2016. It is also based on a 15″ design and has a very attractive red burst finish. He is currently working on a 15″ oval hole 7 string design that will be stunning! All of these guitars use Kent Armstrong pickups and have a number of unique features. 

I play custom strings made by Mapes. I use a fairly heavy set, .14 to .58 and .68 7th. Mapes is a wonderful company to work with and have been making strings for piano, guitar, elec.bass, mandolin and banjo for a long time.

I have been playing the Henriksen JazzAmp since 2007 when I met the company’s founder Bud Henriksen at the Long Island Guitar Show. His son, Peter, now runs the company and is keeping Bud’s vision alive.

I recently received the new Bud 6 model and it is superb.

JGL: In the same vein, I noticed you recently posted an image on Facebook of a “7 string guitar being built by the renowned Luthier Anthony DiDomenico!” in its very early stage of creation. Are you getting a new guitar and if so, why a 7-String?

FD: A lot of people have expressed curiosity on why I’m choosing to play 7 string at this stage in my career. The answer is that for 20 or so years, I was blessed to be able to perform with the great Bucky Pizzarelli. He, as most know, was a proponent of the 7 string. He was always encouraging me to play it but I was resistant claiming that 6 strings were hard enough!

Recently, Bucky’s son, Martin, a wonderful bassist wanted to put together a Tribute band to celebrate his Dad and his music. So together with another fine guitarist, Walt Bibinger,  we did an initial concert. It was fun and so well received, that we decided to keep doing it! So in that spirit, I decided to take Bucky’s advice and try my hand at 7 string.  I also play a lot of solo gigs and concerts, so it seems to be a logical step.

JGL: You have served on the faculties of Swarthmore College, Moravian College, Lehigh University and the Combs College of Music. What sparked your initial interest in teaching at such a level? Was it something that was always in the cards so to speak?

FD: I have always taught private lessons and have had good success with them. My Teacher, Al Stauffer,  and I opened a studio in Philadelphia in 1976. Prior to that Drummer and teacher, Sam D’Amico, asked me to teach guitar at his Music Center while I was a junior in High School.

Around 1978, I was playing and subsequently leading the Jazz Lab Band at Swarthmore College. From there I was recommended and asked to join the faculty of Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa. This was an ultra conservative school at the time and the music department was immersed in German Baroque music. I began teaching guitar there and the popularity of playing new music led to the formation of a Jazz Studies Program. 

About the same time I was approached by the Combs College of Music in Philadelphia. This was the oldest private music school in the nation founded in 1885. It boasted a stellar faculty of artists, many of whom were members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. They offered me a fellowship to teach and enroll in the Masters and Doctoral programs.

I took courses with Anna Kotserenko who was a student of Andres Segovia, Dr. Jacob Neupauer, and the great composer Dr. Romeo Cascarino. I completed my course work in 1985 and earned the Doctor of Musical Arts. Degree. 

I also began teaching at Lehigh University as an adjunct Professor  of guitar. So in my academic career, I have served as a professor,  department chair and in 1986 the Board of Trustees of the Combs College of Music named me President of the College.  I served in that capacity until 1990. All the while I maintained a performance schedule!

I was offered a teaching position at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts in 2007 which kept until 2012.

Currently I am an adjunct Professor at Northampton Area Community College ‘s FabLab Luthier certification program. I teach 2 courses, The Evolution of the Guitar and Music Theory for Luthiers.

I also teach private lessons in jazz guitar, vocal interpretation and improvisation.

JGL: Is there anyone – alive or dead – who you’d love to play and/or record with and why?

FD: If I had to choose a player I would love to play with it would be Bill Evans. Introspective, harmonic genius.

JGL: A wonderful choice of player. And speaking of playing, you have recorded and performed in a variety of musical situations, is there one that you prefer over the other and is there a particular situation you have yet to play in but would like to (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.)?

FD: I have performed in so many different kinds of groups large and small, big bands, orchestras as well as solo. My favorite I think are trios. I love playing in my organ trio, but I also enjoy playing with bass and drums.

JGL: There’s a rumour going around that you also sing? 🙂 How long have you been singing for and is it something that you do now and then or is it a stalwart part of your performances? What kind of tunes do you sing?

FD: I began singing in grade school and always kept it up! One should be able to sing what they play and know the lyrics of the song you are playing. With this in mind, I find that singing gives me an edge and I like to perform it!

Because of my age, I was always drawn to the Great American Song Book. You just can’t beat Porter, Gershwin, Kern, et.,al. I also love Classical music. From the Baroque to 21st. Century composition, it explores tonal possibilities as well as orchestral techniques that can be applied to the guitar!

JGL: I have read that you have been nominated eight times for a Grammy. However, as far as I can tell on Discogs, you have two albums out as a leader…and unfortunately, your website is no help at all in this department…lol…do you have more than two albums and if so, were they all nominated for a Grammy? Can you talk a bit about these nominations?

FD: I have been recorded quite a bit as a sideman but in 1995 I recorded my first album for the Naxos label, Straight Up. In 1998 I was the music director for DBK records there we released jazz versions of Broadway Musicals. We produced, Miss Saigon, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Les Misérables and Titanic. The Grammy nominations came to Smokey Joe’s and Les Mis. In the 2000’s I was signed to the Lost World Music label. There I made a solo CD, Rite of Passage, a trio CD, And Frank Makes Three, a sextet CD, Average White Cats and Songs to Write Home About.

JGL: Getting back to all the artists and bands you have played with, your media kit states that you have “…performed internationally with such notables as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Al Martino, Regis Philbin and Cathy Lee, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Doc Severenson, Art Blakey, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jack Wilkins among others. Wow! How did these associations come to be?

FD: Because I developed good reading skills, I was able to take many show gigs. These were mainly in the show rooms of the Atlantic City Casinos and attracted many top acts.

JGL: Very cool. There is something to be said for being prepared for any occasion. Well done! Now, the great Jazz Guitarist Jimmy Bruno has been quoted as saying, in regards to your playing: “It would be hard to imagine anyone playing the guitar better than this“. Do you remember the context of this statement and what is it that you bring to the table that others might not?

FD: The great Jimmy Bruno and I have been friends for a long time. We played a few gigs together and when I was making promo material, he was gracious enough to give me that quote!

JGL: Almost every musician, no matter their education, skill level or professional stature has their own insecurities to deal with when it comes to music and playing their instrument. What, if any, insecurities do you face on your instrument and how do you work at getting over them?

FD: As far as insecurities go, everyone experiences them from time to time. I tell my students that competence equals confidence. One should never compare themselves with other players. Avoid egoism and present your own voice.

JGL: Any advice for the younger guy or gal who is thinking about playing jazz guitar?

FD: To players coming up or those wishing to pursue a career in music my advise would be to learn from all genres. It is the music that dictates the technique. Strive to make the instrument transparent, that is let your ideas come through the guitar and don’t get sidetracked with licks, patterns and cliches !

JGL: Have you ever had second thoughts about your choice to have music as a career and if so, what other career path do you think you would have followed had you not been a guitar player.

FD: I have absolutely no regrets about my career path. It has been diverse and rewarding. I have been fortunate to have met and performed with my heroes,  have had the pleasure of seeing former students blossom into artists in their own right and have wonderful memories!

JGL: I can imagine! However, if you had to do one thing over again, what would it be and why?

FD: The only thing that I can think of that I would have done differently was to promote myself as a leader rather than a sideman. 

JGL: What is one thing that people would be surprised to find out about you?

FD: I love the artistic life and find outlets in cooking when I’m not teaching or playing. The creation of fine food is very similar to creating music. Being of Italian descent helps!

JGL: Indeed…lol! 🙂 Before we wind this interview up…can you talk a bit about the The Frank DiBussolo Philly Reunion Group. You’ve certainly got a lot of great local press about this group 🙂

FD: One of the joys of my life, besides my lovely wife Donna, are the long-term relationships I have had with certain musicians. So I asked my dearest friends to come together and play music. Thus the Philly Reunion Group was born. It consists of James Dell’Orefice on piano and keyboards, Bruce Klauber on drums, Dave De Palma on woodwinds and Bruce Kaminsky on bass. We all have been playing together for better than 50 years. We lost Dave last year to pancreatic cancer but still remember and honor him through our music.

JGL: My condolences on the loss of your friend. As we wrap this interview up, what does the future hold for Dr. Frank Dibussolo?

FD: I plan to keep playing and teaching  for as long as I can! If anyone wants to contact me, they may do so by sending me an email.

JGL: Wonderful! Thank you Frank for taking the time to chat with Jazz Guitar Life. All the best in all that you do!

FD: Thank you Lyle and Jazz Guitar Life for this opportunity!

Please consider spreading the word about Frank and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this interview amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

If you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or visiting the Jazz Guitar Life sponsors. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂

About Lyle Robinson 353 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

2 Comments

  1. Not only is he one of my best friends who I’ve had the pleasure of performing with for over 40 years, this cat can cook both on the guitar but also on the heat.
    Congrats to you my brother and great friend!!!❤️❤️❤️????????????

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