Featured Image Photo Credit Takuo Sato
Interview at Blue Note Tokyo by Alma Reyes
Image Photo Credit Takuo Sato
Many of you may know him as the stirring voice behind “ Goodbye Philadelphia ,”
the all-time smash hit from 2007 that reached the Top Ten on Pop Radio charts across Europe.
From his toddler years tinkering with a toy piano, to performing regularly at clubs in high school, then winning an award in the piano competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival at seventeen years old, there could be no stopping Peter Cincotti from rolling his carpet of continued success. He has been labeled as the youngest musician at eighteen years old ever to hit the Billboard jazz chart, thanks to his self titled debut album in 2003, produced by Phil Ramone.
Peter calls himself a full-bred New Yorker, and is, therefore, not a novel face among Manhattan clubs, including Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and of course, Blue Note. Further, his upbeat and melodious rhythm has crossed borders around the globe with remarkable performances at L’Olympia in Paris, Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and more. Similarly, Japan has been a frequent venue for the dynamic artist.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of his debut album, Blue Note Tokyo hosted two amazing nights last May 28 and 29, 2023 in four stages to a fully-packed hall. The shows vibrated tunes from Peter’s best hits and latest album, “ Killer on the Keys, ” which he dedicates to all the outstanding piano virtuosos who have influenced his musical passion—from Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Scott Joplin, Bill Evans to Elton John, and many others.
The repertoire at the Blue Note, hence, was a perfect preview of the new album tracks, such as “New York State of Mind” (Billy Joel), “Sweet Lorraine” (Nat King Cole), “Poker Face” (Lady Gaga),
and of course, “Killer on the Keys,” plus Peter’s new single “ The Way It Is ” in a special rearranged version of Bruce Hornsby’s classic tune.
Above all, the audience cheered excitedly seeing Peter perform his golden song, “Goodbye Philadelphia,” which, perhaps, to this date, can be regarded as his most successful and emblematic composition that carved his persona as a mellifluous singer-songwriter. His powerful vocal and piano rendition was above stupendous that made the audience crave for more. Accompanying him on stage were: Tony Glausi (keyboard, trumpet), Mark Lewandowski(contrabass), and Joe Nero (drums).
You have performed in Japan many times. Can you recall your first encounter with Japan and how that laid the string of shows in the country through the years?
“I believe it was in 2003 when I was first invited to come to Japan to do my first record live. I’ve come back about five times since then, playing at Blue Note Tokyo, Billboard Live, and other halls. I love Japan—the culture, people, food…and, I always want to come back. I remember the first time, I was only eighteen years old, and felt how everything in the country seemed so different (especially from New York) in terms of action, vibrancy and the city ambience, although they all overlap. The ebb and flow of the audience reaction is also different. In the beginning, I even thought I wasn’t liked by the Japanese audience, because the response was like a soft, polite applause. But, at the end of the show, they didn’t stop applauding. We even did three encores, which is probably the biggest we’ve done.”
Starting your musical career at a very young age must have impacted your life so much. Did you come from a musical family?
“Not really. My mother was musical and her father sang, but no one was a professional musician in my family. When I was three, my father’s mother got me a toy piano for my birthday. I started playing on it and just got addicted to it. Then, I started taking lessons from four, five years old, and just never stopped. It was a fun time for me. Yet, there was never a moment when I decided to be a musician. I just assumed it would move to that direction since I was playing at clubs in New York from sixth or seventh grade. Sometimes, my piano teacher knew musicians and called me to sit in at their gigs.
Then, the guys would call me to play with them. I had a very supportive family. Through those small gigs, I developed a network of people, and just grabbed any gig I could get. By thirteen, I had my first professional show on West 46th Street at a place called Red Blazer (which is no longer around). At that time, I played with older musicians behind me. That’s how I learned.“
Would you consider the time your first album reached the Top 10 on the Billboard charts when you were just eighteen as your biggest break?
“That may be my first break, which built the foundation for my third record ‘East Of Angel Town,’ and that switched a lot of gears for me.“
How about your encounter with David Foster? How did this come about?
“I met David during the time of my first record. I was working with Phil Ramone then, doing a lot of jazz songs. I did a duet with Renee Olstead as guest in her album that David produced. I started
writing songs then, which were very different from the jazz line I used to do. I was at a private event in L.A., playing all my original songs. David happened to be in the audience. I had already done two albums by that time. David came up to me and said he really wanted me to make a third record with my compositions. He was the first person who believed in me as a songwriter, and it was a very different approach compared to the Peter I was with Phil, which was basically doing jazz standards. That’s how ‘East Of Angel Town’ came up. That record brought me around the world and success at the pop charts. It truly opened up a different world for me as a songwriter. David saw that window and told me, ‘This is the real you.’ So, if you listen to the songs, you might fear there are some jazz roots, but they are very different from the standards I used to do. But, there is a connective tissue to all my past records. I burst open from the third and had gone deeper into the pop and rock world, and farther away from what I started.”
Has it always been writing first, then playing and singing or the other way around?
“It has been changing through the years. Sometimes both, sometimes lyrics first, sometimes melody first. Now, I like to start with the title. It varies. Not many people know that I really started writing songs when I was eight or nine, even before I was playing jazz. I was writing pop songs, almost in the line of Celine Dion type of tunes—very pop (laughs)—but, without the complexities, like in the chords. When I wrote, it came out naturally like that, but when I studied and performed, it would be jazz, blues, or deeper. I always felt there are these two parts of me, which came together in the third album. On the second album, you could hear like a growing dance of myself as a songwriter, like it was my musical puberty stage, feeling all the pimples. Then, I got through that plateau on my next record. Also, in my third album, I collaborated with John Bettis, a brilliant lyricist I greatly admire. We developed a deep connection throughout the years.”
What was it like meeting so many amazing artists, like Billy Joel, David Quetta…throughout your career?
“I’ve been really lucky. I met Billy Joel when I saw him perform at the Madison Square Garden. I remember we talked about having the same producer, Phil Ramone, who did his album ‘52nd Street.’ David Guetta—he contacted me when he saw me on a French TV show playing my rearranged version of his song. He messaged me on MySpace saying he liked what I did. Before we knew it, we ended up collaborating on his single for his next album ‘Love is Gone,’ which also became a scene for my next album ‘Long Way From Home.’ I worked with David on that, combining
piano in highly rhythmic ways.”
So, having met all these great musicians, and now, featuring them in your “Killer on the Keys” album, who would you consider had the biggest influence in your life?
“All of them. That’s really hard to just pinpoint one person. I went through phases. If I start from when I was five, I would say Jerry Lee Lewis was the first that truly hit it for me. I listened to ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ and it just blew me up. But, every few years I would go deep down into different people. That’s why I put them all in the album. Ray Charles was a great influence. But, so was Oscar Peterson, a major influence on the piano. John Lennon, Billy Joel as songwriters. You go to people for different things. I like the story-telling narrative, but you won’t get that from an Oscar
Peterson track. And, you won’t get an Oscar solo on a John Lennon song. So, it’s like I want a little bit of everything. That’s why there’s a lot of piano in the album. I did Billy Joel’s ‘New York State of Mind,’ but there’s a lot of stuff in my arrangement which is a derivative of let’s say, Errol Garner or
Bud Powell, and you can’t hear that under the umbrella of a Billy Joel solo. That’s what’s exciting to me. So, ‘Killer on the Keys’ unifies what I had been working on the last twenty years—building my original songs as a writer, and playing the music of people I honor immensely, putting them in the same space, which you don’t generally hear of. That is the impetus and breadth that made this record.”
How did you cope with the COVID-19 pandemic?
“I couldn’t do concerts naturally, so I kept myself busy writing songs. I did ‘Heart of the City’ from the early stage of 2020 during the start of the quarantine period. The director who did the video for that song also did the video for a new song coming out next month around Father’s Day, called ‘Ghost of My Father.’ My father passed away when I was thirteen when I had my first professional live show, so this is the story I wrote during the pandemic. It may be the most personal song I’ve ever done. I worked on ‘Killer on the Keys’ during the entire pandemic as well—recording, writing, rearranging. That passed the time. Also, I did lots of live streams, connecting with fans that I had not done before. I had a live stream show I called ‘That Friday Feeling with Peter.’ I would make a martini, have a drink, and play a few songs every Friday.“
Having come this far now releasing your sixth album, doing world tours, meeting so many fantastic artists, and truly grounding yourself as a singer-songwriter, how would you assess your personal growth, not just as a musician, but as a person as a whole?
“Everything’s changed so much since I was five. When I look back, I’m able to put some clarity now in the path I’ve taken, and connect all the dots in my musical journey as to why I had been led to
different places. It’s an illusive thing in this creative stream I live with. It has pulled me to different directions, and I’ve become bit more conscious now of that. When I was younger, I was trying this and that, aiming to find myself, not just with music, but in all aspects of life as a person. I think the ultimate goal is to become your real self. When you’re in the creative realm, you want to be as true to that as you can. So, every record is an attempt to peel off the layers of the onion and get closer to the core.”
So, have you found yourself?
“I’m on the way (laughing)…I don’t know if I’ll ever find myself, but life is a never-ending journey of peeling off the onion layers. But, every record does get to a different place in you, and allows you to become more whole. My style has also changed a lot on the surface where I’m doing more original songs now. And, in today’s digital era, it has become quite easier now to connect with musicians globally. So, I’m hoping to do more tours and even collaborate with musicians around the world.
I would love to do something with a musician from Japan as well.”
See upcoming shows at Blue Note Tokyo HERE
May 29 2nd stage
1. Raise The Roof
2. Sweet Lorraine
3. How High The Moon
5. Killer On The Keys
6. You Don't Know Me
7. Goodbye Philadelphia
8. Take a Good Look
9. The Way It Is
10. Poker Face
11. As It Was
12. New York State of Mind
I Love Being Here With You
Peter Cincotti © Orpheus Management
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