Larry Vuckovich was born in Kotor, Yugoslavia, on December 8, 1936. He came to San Francisco in 1951 at the height of the then flourishing bop jazz scene. Classically trained but an ardent jazz fan thanks to Armed Forces Radio, he began hanging out at clubs like the Blackhawk and the Jazz Workshop, where he heard such greats as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bill Evans. At the Blackhawk he met Cal Tjader and Vince Guaraldi. He studied jazz piano as Guaraldi's only piano student. During this period he was also completing his music studies at San Francisco State University, where John Handy was a major influence on the school's jazz program. As well as collaborating with the students, Handy brought visiting greats who also performed with the classmates of Vuckovich, including Milt Jackson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Mickey Roker, Bob Cranshaw, and Larry Gales. Vuckovich began his professional career in 1959 with tenor saxophonist Brew Moore. He began subbing for Guaraldi in 1960 accompanying singers David Allyn and Irene Kral. Around this time he also performed with such instrumentalists as Handy and Monk Montgomery. In 1963 while accompanying Mel Tormé, he developed a close musical rapport with the singer, and was his first-call pianist in San Francisco. Two years later, Vuckovich began a longstanding association with vocalist and lyricist Jon Hendricks, appearing at major festivals and clubs worldwide, as well as performing in the long-running and famous musical stage production Evolution of the Blues.