A Fireside Chat With Peter Cincotti
“ I try to stay away from songs that are beyond my years... I will have to wait until I am fifty years old to sing 'I'll Remember April.' ”
All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.
Peter Cincotti: Jazz music was always played in my house growing up. From a very early age, I was exposed to people like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington and people like that. As I got older, I got more into instrumental jazz musicians like Bill Evans and Erroll Garner. I only started singing relatively late compared to when I started playing. I started playing when I was three and I started singing about fifteen, so I am definitely a pianist first. For my third birthday, my grandmother bought me this toy piano and she taught me how to play 'Happy Birthday' on it. So I was just playing it by ear, always on that little toy piano and at four, I started taking piano lessons and at five, we got a real piano in the house and that is how it really began. I was always kind of addicted to it in a sense.
FJ: How old are you?
PC: I'm nineteen.
FJ: You know what I was doing when I was nineteen - a lot of things that have to do with backseats, not backstage.
PC: (Laughing) It is very flattering, that is for sure. And it does hit me in the face every now and then. I have to say that I am very focused on what I do. I always have been. I don't want to ever get blinded by whatever praise or criticism, for that matter, that may come my way. I should just concentrate on the music. I am only nineteen and I have been in it for a relatively short period of time compared to people who are a lot older than me and have been in the business. To concentrate on the music and develop as a musician is definitely the primary goal for me, to just keep developing. I feel at nineteen, there is so much that I have to learn and so many records that I have to listen to, but at the same time, I want to feel that way when I am eighty years old.
FJ: The clich' when it comes to jazz vocals is lush, big band arrangements. You chose to deviate from that form.
PC: Well, that is like I said, I consider myself a pianist before a singer. This is the context which I have been studying in, a trio setting. I listen to the Bill Evans' Trio, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, those were a lot of my big influences. This is just where I am musically at this point in time. It would make no sense for me to have a big band record for my first record. Maybe one day I may do that, but this is where I am now. I listen to people like Shirley Horn and the Nat King Cole Trio, those are my biggest influences as of now. It only made sense for my first record to be in that kind of a context.
FJ: How much of an importance do you place on phrasing?
PC: I think it is very important. With this kind of music, I don't know if it is really the music, but more particularly the songs are very dependent on the communication of the lyric. You have to take a lyric that, in many cases, have been sung before by many great artists and make it your own. For example, so many standards on my record, I was very weary to put on there because they have been sung by Nat King Cole and so it was a little scary to do, but I wanted to at least try to do something new with it. Phrasing is the key, an important element to interpreting the song and the lyrics.
FJ: The life of a jazz musician is a nomadic one. At nineteen, it isn't something you learned in high school health.
PC: I just got my first taste of that. I went on this little two-week media tour and that was really the first time I was really on tour. There is a lot of touring coming up. It is overwhelming. I got a taste of it. I don't know what it is really like to do it all year round, but I am looking forward to experiencing it, that is for sure. Even in these two weeks, I learned a lot about a lot of things, just traveling. It is an education within itself.
FJ: Favorite standards?