Young & Restless
Twenty years old, handsome, smartly dressed, raised on Manhattans Upper East Side and with a genuine feel for the material, Peter Cincotti appears poised to become the next great interpreter of the Great American Songbook. In fact, the singer and pianist is already well down the path traveled by Diana Krall, John Pizzarelli and Harry Connick Jr. Cincottis eponymous debut recording, produced by Phil Ramone, has earned raves everywhere from The New York Times to Teen Vogue. The CD, released this past spring and reeking of old soul, featured interpretations of the standards Comes Love and Aint Misbehavin, inventive instrumental takes on the Beatles Fool on the Hill and Blood, Sweat & Tears Spinning Wheel, and a smattering of catchy original songs. Cincotti has performed for a national TV audience at New Yorks Thanksgiving Day Parade, and at the Oak Room at Manhattans Algonquin Hotel, where he became the youngest headliner in the famed lounge.As natural as the style seems to come to him, Cincotti isnt certain how long hell be waving the banner of the Great American Songbook. Though it isnt reflected in his CD, Cincotti claims a fondness for rapper Eminem and contemporary r&b singer Beyonc. His influences range from his first love, Jerry Lee Lewis, and pop stars Billy Joel and Elton John to the more obvious ones like Nat King Cole and Fats Waller. Not yet old enough to sip a Scotch in the clubs he plays (at least when hes performing in America), Cincotti sees a vast field in front of him, and isnt ready to settle into any one niche. In fact, he hints that his style has already been altered from that captured on Peter Cincotti.Through the years it was music in general that interested me, said Cincotti from Germany, where he is acting in a film directed by and co-starring Kevin Spacey. The style kept changing and it keeps changing. If I had made my first record at 16, it would have been a completely different record. My next record will reflect where I am at that time. The songs Im writing now are really different.The sort of music heard on Peter Cincotti a vocal style influenced by Sinatra and Nat King Cole; piano playing with debts to Erroll Garner and Fats Waller was exposed to Cincotti through his aunts and uncles more than his mother (an art director for a magazine) and his late father (a lawyer with the Manhattan attorney generals office). But the young Cincotti, who took up piano at 3 and only began singing at 15, also attended rock concerts, Broadway musicals and jazz clubs and listened to everything on the radio. All of it had an impact.I try to listen to everything, said Cincotti, who makes his Aspen debut with two performances, at 7 and 9:30 p.m., on Sunday, Dec. 28, at the Wheeler Opera House, with his quartet, comprising saxophonist Scott Kreitzer, bassist Barak Mori and drummer Rodney Green. What I was initially attracted to came more out of the jazz world, and sometimes just instrumental music. Theres so much to hear, in so many different songwriters, its overwhelming.At the moment, its hard to picture Cincotti altering what has been a most successful course. Peter Cincotti hit No. 1 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz Chart a few weeks after its release on the mid-sized Concord label. He has made the rounds of most of the popular TV talk shows, and played such gigs as opening for Shirley Horn in front of 10,000 people in Viennes, France, and opening for Ray Charles in Montreal.But one need not look far to find an example of a young traditionalist growing stylistically restless and breaking his own mold. A decade ago, teenage singer-pianist A.J. Croce made his own Aspen debut at the Wheeler, impressing audiences with a style reminiscent of the bluesier, hotter side of old-school music: Louis Jordan, Mose Allison, Louis Armstrong. Like Cincotti, Croce son of the late folk-rock singer Jim Croce seemed devoted to an era past, to the point of dressing the part, wearing a suit on stage. Through three CDs and several Aspen appearances, Croce seemed beholden to a throwback sound.And then Croce changed. His fourth album, Transit, was contemporary roots rock. When he toured in support of it, his Aspen performance was at the Double Diamond rather than the Wheeler. The suit and tie were replaced with more relaxed garb. Croce even looked different. Explaining the change, Croce said his tastes had developed, he had loosened up and stepped into his own times.Likewise, Cincotti aims not to be chained to his own past, or to anyones perception of him. It always comes back to me and the piano and how Im feeling, he said. Its not about my image and how Im marketed. Its whatever Im feeling at the time, thats what I go by.Cincotti says jazz music has been the great instructor in lessons of artistic freedom. If Cincotti starts playing Elton John-style piano rock, or sprinkles his sound with hip-hop flavor, it will be because of the jazz influence. Thats what attracted me to jazz music you dont have to read the notes on the page, he said. Its freedom, and thats how I feel. Thats the mindset for the rest of my life.*****Its possible that the rest of that life might not even be devoted entirely to music. Cincotti will appear in the upcoming film Spider-Man 2. There, Cincotti will appear basically as himself, a lounge singer in the background of one scene, with no speaking parts.More notable is the role Cincotti was recently shooting in Germany. In Beyond the Sea, a biopic of singer Bobby Darin, Cincotti plays Dick Behrke, Darins best friend and musical arranger and accompanist. Cincotti is in heavy company: Kevin Spacey directs and plays Darin; co-starring are John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Kate Bosworth and Brenda Blethyn. Cincotti sees the role as much of a musical experience as an acting one. But landing the part is evidence of the limitless nature of Cincottis career potential.Its a very musical experience, said Cincotti. Thats what drew me into it. I dont have a desire to go off and become an actor. But this film is about music and its very musical. The fact that I could be in this film in a musical context and sit at the piano, that was appealing to me. The guy Im playing what he was going through at the time is similar to what Im going through. Sometimes I dont even feel like Im acting.*****Regardless of what paths he may veer off on in the future, for the moment Cincotti is the next champion of the Great American Songbook. While he may not relish the title, he is enjoying the role. And one of the best parts of the job is turning people of his generation on to the music of a half-century ago. To an 18-year-old listening to Cincotti sing Nature Boy, its not necessarily a trip back in time. Cincotti relates the story of a friend of his sisters, who commented that she loved the song that Cincotti wrote. The song in question: Aint Misbehavin, written by Fats Waller some 75 years ago.People come away thinking my version of a song thats 100 years old is the first version, which is ridiculous, said Cincotti. But if I introduce this music to people my age, thats great. That would be an unbelievable feeling. Not that its bad to play to an older crowd. But they have a history. This is familiar music to them.People shouldnt be shocked if Cincottis role changes up ahead. Among the more immediate changes is that Cincotti has begun writing his own lyrics. (On the three original songs on his debut album, his mother Cynthia and sister Pia contributed the lyrics.) There is the likelihood he will continue introducing teenagers to the songs of their grandparents generation. There is also the chance that he will start introducing those teenagers parents to modern sounds. Cincotti is firmly convinced that he is a work in progress, and what lies ahead is unknown.Im just on the road. And its a long road ahead, he said.
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