Antonio Ciacca: Bringing People Together Through Swing
AC: Well we were playing a Monk tune, "Bolivar Blues," so I just thought about throwing in some Monk ideas; Monk sounds, clusters. I've been playing his music for some time and feel I have a good understanding of how to approach it.
AAJ: Who else has influenced you?
AC: Definitely Bud Powell and one of my teachers, Barry Harris. As a writer, I'm influenced by Horace Silver and Benny Golson. That's my thing. Lately though, for my big band writing, it's Tadd Dameron and Thad Jones. I've been getting asked by different bands to write for them. I've written two charts for The Jazz Heritage Orchestra and I'm working on some things for a big band in Europe.
AAJ: You lead your own trio and quartet around New York. Has it been difficult to keep a core group of players together?
AC: Not really. I've been using many of the same guys since I landed in New York in February, 2007, like drummers Ulysses Owens and Rodney Green, and bassists David Wong and Kengo Nakamura. Saxophonist Grant Stewart has been playing with me since 1996, so we're longtime friends.
AAJ: Any future recording plans?
AC: I have a new quintet recording featuring Steve Grossman that will be released the first week of October. I was able to get Steve into the studio in Bologna. We played a couple of my tunes, a couple of his tunes. It was great. We recorded just a couple of days after Johnny Griffin died, so in a way it's a tribute to Griffin, who I've played with in the past.
AAJ: Let's talk about your style for a moment. Your soloing on Rush Life emphasizes soulful, swinging lines. Although you certainly have technique to spare, you display it rather sparingly.
AC: My style comes from my experience playing with unbelievable giants of the music who can say so much with just one chorussay something so beautiful, I would be up all night thinking about it. One night, for example, I was playing a gig with [Steve] Lacy, it might have been in Portugal, and we were tired from traveling and being on tour.
Anyway, after the gig the audience wanted an encore, but nobody felt like going out, so Steve ended up going out by himself. He played one chorus of [Thelonious Monk's] "Pannonica" and just killed it. That one chorus was the most unbelievable version of "Pannonica" I'd ever heard. He played more music in that one chorus than the band had played during the entire concert. I said, "Steve, how in the hell do you do that?" He said, "Man, it took me a long time to figure out what not to play."
There was another time I remember with Lacy when I asked him, "Steve, how do I know when I'm playing good?" Looking back now I think it was a stupid question to ask, but here was this guy who had played with Monk and so many others. How could he ever be impressed by my playing? Anyway, he said, "You're playing good when you've played something you've never played before." It was the same with Benny Golson
AAJ: Describe your work as Director of Programming for Jazz at Lincoln Center.
AC: It's a fantastic place for a jazz musician to work. My job is to program the shows. I work closely with Wynton [Marsalis] on upcoming concerts. He'll have ideas, and my job is to identify the people who can implement those ideas. For example, he wants to put on a Mary Lou Williams centennial show so I have to find people who know that music or are capable of playing that music. I'll find the musical director, the soloists, and the right ensemble.
So I end up spending a lot of time talking to people like Bill Charlap, Hank Jones, Cyrus Chestnut, Tony Bennett. Talking about music, arrangements, you know. It's really great. Plus working side-by-side with someone like Wynton is fantastic. He has so much energy and passion for everything he does. He tries to be thorough and accurate with every project. He never gets tired and is always thinking of something new.
AAJ: Your work offers you a unique perspective of the music business. What advice would you have for an up-and-coming jazz musician?
AC: My advice is to learn the history of the music and every aspect of the business. Guys like Duke Ellington used to know how to take care of business. You could even go back to people in Europe like [Muzio] Clementi and [George Frideric] Handel. Clementi was teaching professionally, creating teaching methods, producing operas. He even had a piano factory at one point. I mean, here was a guy who was born poor in Naples and died rich in London. You have to learn every aspect of music, not just about doing a gig. As Leonard Bernstein once said, "music is not gigging."
Music is much more than showing up to a gig, play a couple standards, throw in a few clichés, play some boring arrangements. Music is much more than that. Music is about creating a sound or a concept like Duke Ellington, Monk, the Modern Jazz Quartet. It's about creating a repertoire like Benny Golson and The Jazztet or Wayne Shorter, people like Miles Davis who created great bands and had a vision, creating opportunities like Richard Wagner did when he created his own festival in Beyreuth, Germany for "The Ring Cycle." Today it's like a pilgrimage to go to Beyreuth and hear Wagner's music. It comes down to students needing to know all aspects of music, not just gigging.