At age 12, he began to play piano professionally. At 17, he portrayed Frank Sinatra off-Broadway. At 19, he reached #1 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz charts (the youngest artist to-date to do so), and he had played for Stevie Wonder (read the story below). And today, Peter Cincotti is recording his fifth studio album, writing his second full-length musical (with sister, Pia Cincotti) and touring the world, captivating audiences with both his masterful renditions of jazz standards as well as his genre-spanning original works.
Musicnotes caught up with Cincotti to chat about what it’s like going from a young prodigy to pop star, what influences his songwriting process and what life is really like as an international touring artist.
Looking at the progression of your career, from your self-titled breakout album to 2012’s ‘Metropolis,’ there’s a clear shift from jazz standards to really fun contemporary pop-rock and ballads. Was this a conscientious move?
P.C. “It wasn’t really conscious, only after the fact is it clear that, boy, each record has kind of changed. The most, I guess, aware that I was of the shift was in between my second and third albums, when I started writing. As I started writing (the first two albums were mainly covers, I wrote some songs in a certain style, but it was within that framework of standards), I just remember something happening. That’s what lead to a full-length album of all my own stuff, and that’s just what came out. The style ended up being very different. In a way, I heard my own sound for the first time.”
You did some pretty heavy work early in your career, “Sway,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “St. Louis Blues” come to mind. How do you think choosing those covers early on influenced your original songwriting?
P.C. “All those songs influenced my writing. My background in jazz, and just that kind of songbook with writers like Rodgers and Hart and other classic writers of the 20s, 30s and 40s, that was what I grew up with, so it set the bar for me in a lot of ways. Even now when I write, that’s still the bar. That’s something I try to aspire to, is that level of writing. Even though what I’m doing now and in recent years is quite different genre-wise, I feel very connected to those early influences. In my opinion they’re the best it gets. I would just love to find a way, personally, to try and bring some of those rules of writing and they way they handled structure and rhyme and melody into contemporary music. That’s kind of what I’m working on now, is a way to bring that, somehow, full-circle.”
What are you currently writing?
P.C. “I’m writing all kinds of stuff. I’m working on my fifth album now. I’m also working on a theatre piece with my sister, who’s a playwright. This is now our second musical.” (The first, ‘How Deep Is the Ocean?’ debuted at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2012. — Ed.) “It’s musically very different from the album that I’m making now. A lot of writing, but with different purposes.”
Is it difficult to switch gears, working on the two simultaneously?
P.C. “A little bit, one informs the other, in a way. There are always walls that you hit in the creative process. It’s kind of nice that if I hit a theatrical wall, I just take a break from that and write for my record. And then it’s kind of like a distraction, but I’m still doing what I’ve got to do. I’m bouncing back and forth. In a way, they provide breathing room, somehow, to each other. You can get so close to any one particular project that you start losing perspective.”
You tour all over the world. Are there any note-worthy differences in how fans react to your performances regionally?
P.C. “You know, there are, and it’s been illuminating to me too, because I feel like I’ve had these two different careers. I’ve had the American chapter when I first started, I did a lot of American touring with the first album. If people know me in America, at this point, it’s more from my earlier stuff. Whereas in Europe, I’m more known for some of the songs like “Goodbye Philadelphia,” off my third album, which was on the pop charts there. That gives way to two different audiences, too. On the fifth album, now, what we’re doing is trying to combine it all in a global way, and with technology and social media, and by how we’re making the album, it’s going to be different than any other I’ve made. Bringing the fans together is kind of a result.”
For aspiring professional musicians, are there any surprises about touring, or common misconceptions we may have about what the touring process is like?
P.C. “I guess the main thing would be the perception of being all over the world and seeing all of these amazing places. A lot of times you don’t see them, at all. Literally, you just see the hotel room and the plane. And there’s this thing that happens, when you’re on a long tour, you get on a plane like it’s your bedroom, you go to your seat like it’s your bed. It’s a weird twist on reality, but it gets to how you don’t even realize that you’re 30,000 feet in the air. So, you don’t see a lot of the places, but sometimes you do. It all depends on where your days off are. Whether your agent packs the tour tightly or he build you 3 days off in Monaco, in which case, you can have a great time!”
[blockquote source=”Peter Cincotti”]I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I mean, there’s so much I want to do.[/blockquote]
You’ve been a professional musician for more than half your life. Is there anything you’d like to do musically that you haven’t yet done?
P.C. “I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I mean, there’s so much I want to do. Theatre was always on my list, so now it’s cool to be, kind of, up to my ears in it. And I want to continue to develop that. And then, I’d love to collaborate with different artists. I had this brief experience with David Guetta in France where I took one of his songs and kind of rearranged it for a French TV show. And he heard about it, and we performed together on a different show. He was on the stage at the DJ spot and I was on the piano, and that was a really cool example of some directional collaborations that I’d like to pursue, too.” (Find video of the two talking about their collaboration on Peter’s YouTube page — Ed.)
You’ve worked with many other amazing artists. Is there anyone you’ve been star-struck by?
P.C. “If I’m a fan of somebody, I just want to watch them do what they do. I remember I had the honor of opening for Ray Charles once, and he had always been kind of an idol of mine. I didn’t even want to get on the stage, I just wanted to sit and watch him. And the way he conducted the band, it was like, I was more musically struck. Watching him play, it was really fascinating. One time I did a gig … I remember doing a song, really early on, I must’ve been like 18 or 19, and I saw Stevie Wonder in the audience moving his head. Moments like that are just completely surreal.”
What’s up next for Peter Cincotti? You’re working on the new album, you’re touring, you’re working on the theatre piece…
P.C. “Isn’t that enough? I’m not complaining, I’m happy to be overloaded with the writing. But my next steps are to get this album done. I’m in the early stage of finding the right producer, so picking the team will be kind of cool. And then the theatre piece. The theatre world is a long process, but hopefully soon we’ll have some kind of schedule. There will be a European tour in the fall, and then a possible single release in the summer, so fairly soon I’d say. And then we’ll be touring the states, I don’t have dates announced yet.”
We look forward to that new single! Is there anything else you’d like to share with your fans?
P.C. “Oh yeah, I’m part of Pledge music, I should probably touch on that! Pledge music is one of the most exciting, in my opinion, direct-to-fan music platforms out there. I’m building this record on fan engagement, and it’s a way to connect with the fans who’ve stuck with me through all my musical changes through the years. So now we’re doing this fan engagement thing, where you can be part of the music. And Pledge music offers all kinds of things to have them basically be the partner in the record.”
Musicnotes would like to thank Peter for taking the time to talk to us. Be sure to check out our great Peter Cincotti sheet music catalogue, complete with songs spanning his impressive career. And, keep an eye out for more exclusive artist interviews coming to the Musicnotes Blog soon!