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?
PC: There are so many good ones. A lot of my favorite standards are songs that I can't sing yet. I'm too young to sing. I try to stay away from songs that are beyond my years, but a lot of them are my favorite records or songs. I will give you an example, Fred, like 'September of My Years.' That song is so long off for someone my age, but nonetheless, I love the song. I will have to wait until I am fifty years old to sing that or 'I'll Remember April.' Those are my favorite kind of songs, but I can't sing them right now.
FJ: What are your expectations for this debut release ?
PC: I have a lot of expectations and goals. I would love as many people possible in this world to be able to hear my music. That is my dream and my goal, so whatever goes along with that, goes with that. It is not only about records. It's about performing all over the world. I would love to perform all over the world and bring music to as many people as I can.
FJ: Are you Lord of the Rings or Star Wars?
PC: Neither. I don't know if I don't like them, it is just that I haven't seen them. Everybody says, 'I can't believe you don't know Star Wars,' but I don't. I know it, but I haven't watched those movies. I might have seen clips here and there, but I am not into it.
FJ: But you are nineteen years old.
PC: I know. No, a lot of people my age are into it, but it just never appealed to me.
FJ: You peers are getting drunk and getting, well, rhymes with 'maid,' do you think you are missing out on anything?
PC: Right now, I don't. Right now, I am trading one for the other. I am traveling and performing and the last thing on my mind is partying at school. To me, this is a lot more appealing. It is a lot more fun for me. I'm working with the deans to determine the best way to handle my (educational) future. I am doing some traveling, so I have to be missing some school. Getting an education is important to me.
FJ: Did you declare a major?
PC: I didn't declare it yet. Everyone at Columbia has two years to declare it.
FJ: Well, you have the play to get plenty of nookie.
PC: (Laughing) Well, it can't hurt. I don't know. Everybody said that if I played piano I would get a lot of girls. We will see (laughing).