An­to­nio Ci­acca and jazz: That’s amore

New York Daily News - - JAZZ - GREG gth­[email protected]­dai­ THOMAS

‘I met Mr. Marsalis when I was 19, and that

was it.’

For An­to­nio Ci­acca, the jour­ney from a small town of 1,000 peo­ple in Fog­gia, Italy, to artist-in-res­i­dence sta­tus at the lux­ury Se­tai Ho­tel hap­pened be­cause of one thing: jazz. Ci­acca, 43, be­gan book­ing con­certs at the Bar on Fifth at the five-star bou­tique ho­tel in mid­town in April 2011. The pi­anist and com­poser him­self will lead an ensem­ble at the Se­tai Ho­tel’s Bar on Fifth for a six-day en­gage­ment start­ing Mon­day night.

The Se­tai is only his lat­est pro­fes­sional home. The move there came af­ter he served a four-year term as the di­rec­tor of pro­gram­ming and concert ad­min­is­tra­tion for Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter. He’s also been a pro­fes­sor, teach­ing the busi­ness of jazz at Juil­liard.

Ci­acca be­gan study­ing the Euro­pean clas­si­cal lit­er­a­ture at the age of 10. He dropped the pi­ano at 13 to pur­sue dreams of a soc­cer ca­reer, and re­sumed his pi­ano stud­ies at the Con­ser­va­tory of Bologna as an un­der­grad­u­ate mu­sic stu­dent.

Hear­ing Wyn­ton Marsalis changed his life.

“I met Mr. Marsalis when I was 19, and that was it,” Ci­acca says. “I knew I want to play a dif­fer­ent pi­ano.”

Af­ter Ci­acca went back­stage and said: “I want to do what you do,” Marsalis had a quick re­sponse: “Okay, get the best teacher you can.”

“Right at that mo­ment,” Ci­acca says, “the god of jazz was watch­ing, and he made sure that one of the great­est tenor sax­o­phone play­ers in jazz moved from New York City to Bologna — next door to where I was liv­ing.”

Steve Gross­man had re­placed Wayne Shorter in Miles Davis’ band when he was a teenager. Over three years of work­ing to­gether, Gross­man, who also plays pi­ano, im­mersed Ci­acca in the art and sci­ence of jazz im­pro­vi­sa­tion.

But to go deeper, “he told me to go to the States to learn the so­ci­o­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment that pro­duces jazz,” Ci­acca says. “He’d say jazz is the sur­face, but if you don’t know what is be­neath that, you don’t re­ally un­der­stand.”

So Ci­acca vis­ited a friend in Detroit and stayed for three months. He had what he calls “a born-again ex­pe­ri­ence at the age of 24,” one that fea­tured some se­ri­ous cul­ture shock.

“The first night I walked into a jazz club, there was a group of AfricanAmer­i­can peo­ple. I was the only white per­son in a com­pletely black neigh­bor­hood of Detroit,” he says. “They were play­ing black mu­sic. The first word that came out of their mouth was: ‘Do you want to play?’”

Ci­acca was shocked by the open­ness and shar­ing.“So at that ex­act mo­ment in Detroit,” he says, “I un­der­stood why I liked jazz more than clas­si­cal. Why I felt some­thing that I never felt in any other kind of mu­sic.”

Ci­acca now lives in Pel­ham in Westch­ester with his wife, Josephine Ma­gri Ci­acca, and their five chil­dren. They met in Bologna while he was study­ing for his mas­ter’s in African-Amer­i­can Mu­si­col­ogy.

Af­ter his ex­pe­ri­ence in Detroit, Ci­acca booked jazz and gospel tours in Italy for 15 years to re-cre­ate the com­mu­nal vibe he needed to nur­ture an im­mer­sion in jazz cul­ture. He’s stud­ied pri­vately with Barry Har­ris, Kenny Bar­ron and Jaki Byard. Ci­acca found Byard in Hol­lis, Queens, and stud­ied with him for an in­ten­sive week, right be­fore Byard was shot and killed in 1999. “He made me fall in love with pre-be­bop pi­ano play­ing,” Ci­acca says.

As a com­poser, Ci­acca writes catchy, feel-good tunes, à la Ho­race Sil­ver and Cedar Wal­ton. He’s also in­flu­enced by Benny Gol­son’s ap­proach.

The fo­cus for his run at Bar on Fifth will be on the mu­sic of Char­lie Parker. On Aug. 29, the be­bop pi­o­neer of jazz im­pro­vi­sa­tion would have been 92.

Ci­acca em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of live jazz, es­pe­cially now when so much mu­sic is piped in. At Bar on Fifth, he says, there’s al­ways acous­tic jazz be­ing played, with no cover and a one-drink min­i­mum.

“Peo­ple should be proud of hear­ing their own mu­sic,” Ci­acca says, “in a beau­ti­ful place, acous­ti­cally, live.” An­to­nio Ci­acca re­flects on keys to his ca­reer. YOU SHOULD KNOW

An­to­nio Ci­acca at Bar on Fifth, 400 Fifth Ave., at 36th St.

Aug. 20-25, 8-11 p.m., (212) 695-4005.

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