A Queen And A Prince
Jessica Williams and Peter Cincotti make separate visits to Carmel this week.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
What''s more exciting, experiencing a virtuoso at the peak of her power, or catching a rising star who''s still finding his way?
The veteran is pianist Jessica Williams, who plays a solo recital in Carmel at the Jazz and Blues Company on Tuesday. The ingenue is 20-year-old pianist and vocalist Peter Cincotti, a rapidly rising star who holds forth at the Sunset Cultural Center with his quartet on Wednesday, before making his Monterey Jazz Festival debut on Saturday.
Williams, a longtime Santa Cruz resident, is one of jazz''s most revered pianists. But what really sets her solo performances apart is her gift for seamlessly weaving together various jazz keyboard styles with her compelling sense of narrative flow.
"I''ve developed a style playing solo that I''ve never heard done before," says Williams, 55. "It''s a combination and accumulation of just about every style of piano playing in the universe, from very modernist to very retro. I''ve never been good at limiting myself."
Williams'' range has been well documented in recent years. She''s released more than 30 albums since 1990 on a variety of labels, including a gorgeous 2002 trio session, This Side Up, and a sublime solo session released in March, Jessica Williams Alone (both for MaxJazz). Having spent most of her career honing her skills as an accompanist or as the leader of a trio, she found that developing a solo style forced her to rethink her approach to the keyboard.
"I don''t do as much bebop playing solo, and I developed the left-hand bass line to an art," Williams says. "I worked on establishing foundations and different ways of playing tunes that would be full and rich and would imply the presence of a rhythm section without actually having to pay those guys."
As a young musician on the Philadelphia jazz scene, Williams worked with Miles Davis'' former drummer, Philly Joe Jones, and developed a strong rhythmic foundation and blues sensibility playing in organ trios. Her reputation really started to spread in the mid-''70s when she was the house pianist at San Francisco''s leading jazz club, Keystone Korner. It was a heady period for her, playing week-long stands with jazz legends such as Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon and Eddie Harris. But it was a difficult time too, marked by the substance abuse that has long shadowed show business.
"I think it was more like being slightly crazy than being entirely musically ready," Williams says. "I survived the situation and a lot of musicians didn''t."
There are other occupational hazards a musician faces, like dealing with tremendous success at a young age. So far, Peter Cincotti seems to be holding out just fine. Since the release of his eponymous Concord Records debut earlier this year, he''s made numerous appearances on network television and played three weeks at the Algonquin Hotel''s Oak Room, making him the youngest artist ever to headline at the legendary cabaret venue.
A precocious talent, he''s been performing at New York jazz spots since he was 12, but he''s only emerged a full-fledged double threat recently, performing standards and his own tunes with his confidently swinging band. With his good looks and affable stage manner, Cincotti has been widely hailed as the natural successor to Harry Connick Jr. and as the savior of the American Songbook, a performer who will introduce the classic jazz-infused pop style of Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole and Tony Bennett to a new generation. It''s a role that Cincotti adamantly rejects.
"My goal as a musician is very clear, to develop and express myself in a natural and honest way," Cincotti says. "It''s not like I''m out there trying to reach younger people and introduce them to this kind of music. If they come to the show, great. Either way, the goal is to be playing music and to be changing and evolving, whoever the audience is."