Musicians in our midst: Peter Cincotti ‘01, jazz musician


Matthew Brand, Contributing Writer

From the Bronx to Billboard, Peter Cincotti ’01 has reached musical success after graduating from the school. A pianist and singer-songwriter, Cincotti bends the rules of jazz and pop to create his own signature fusion style. He has performed around the world, broken records, and shared the stage with the greats of the jazz world, ranging from Ray Charles to David Foster. “I hope my music allows people to feel something, maybe even see themselves in a song, but if nothing else, be entertained,” he said.

Cincotti first began playing piano at the age of three, when his grandmother gifted him a wooden toy piano with twelve keys, he said. He started off with a few simple nursery rhymes, but soon advanced to more complex pieces, discovering his ability to hear a piece of music and recite it. While he took lessons to improve his technique, Cincotti felt confined by the sheet music because it limited his creative potential. Outside classes, he fed his creative desires by exploring new genres of music.

He first took interest in 50s rock & roll and pop. Once he mastered the simple three-chord structures and formulas of 50s pop, he moved onto more complex styles like jazz. As a teenager, Cincotti owned a collection of VHS tapes of famous jazz pianists like Dr. John. Listening to these tapes was a key part in his learning process, he said. Not only did they give him a better sense of musical techniques, they also grew his appreciation for jazz’s complexity. It’s a type of music not chained to the sciences of the industry, he said. “Jazz is a universal language with many dialects.”

Cincotti has always been a performer. In high school, he played gigs in clubs and restaurants around Manhattan, he said. He kept performing while attending Columbia University and worked with producer Phil Ramone on his debut, self-titled album. After its release in 2003, Cincotti became the youngest musician to hit #1 on the Billboard Jazz Album Charts.

While the success of his debut album was a gratifying product of his hard work, Cincotti was forced to make sacrifices. “I had to stop going to Columbia because of the live performance demand,” he said. “At that point, I just couldn’t give all my 100% to both the music and the school.”

Cincotti dived into recording music — write, tour, repeat. One of the major challenges in Cincotti’s career was his creative direction. While he did reach commercial success with his debut album, that record was mostly a collection of re-arranged jazz standards. “I wanted to express myself in a deeper way,” he said. His process changed over time as he assumed greater creative control over his music and learned to produce.

Cinotti began working with 16-time Grammy winner David Foster for his third studio album, “East of Angel Town” which was released in 2007. This record was his first album with all original music, which yielded Top Ten singles across Europe, where he toured heavily, collaborating with artists from different genres such as David Guetta. As his career has progressed, Cincotti has learned how to make records start-to-finish as the one overseeing the process.

On his upcoming album, “Killer On The Keys,” Cincotti will honor some of the most influential piano icons of all time and release more original music, he said. The project will be an ode to the piano, paying homage to his musical heroes.

To face the daunting music industry as a young kid with ambitious musical aspirations, you must have “a need to create,” Cincotti said. “It has to be something you’re willing to give your life to.”