During the darkest days of the pandemic, not an insignificant number of New Yorkers with means and privilege fled the city for bucolic country estates and sprawling oceanfront compounds. Not Peter Cincotti. The multi-hyphenate pianist, composer, singer, and songwriter stayed put. This was, after all, the city where he was born and raised. The city of his alma mater (Columbia). The city where he got his first music gigs, sneaking into clubs to play late night sets at age 12. The city where he was discovered—at age 17, by the late Phil Ramone.
So he stood by his hometown in 2020, even writing up a musical tribute, called Heart of the City, that went viral. And had he not remained in New York during that time, he wouldn't be where he is today, on the cusp of releasing the album he created during quarantine, one that is profoundly personal and stylistically daring, and unlike anything he has ever made before.
"Being in New York City and looking out the window and reflecting on a bunch of things, musically and personally, it defined the record in a deeper way and unified all these different ideas I had," Cincotti says of the finished compilation, called Killer on the Keys, that will come out next month. "It brings together elements from all the records I released prior. There are original songs about life on the road and growing up in New York, and about the loss of my father when I was 13 that I never really talk about, let alone put in songs."
That’s not all. The album, his sixth, is also a tribute to musical influences past and present, with iconic songs by the likes of Lady Gaga, Elton John, Nat King Cole, and Scott Joplin reimagined in Cincotti’s signature brand of jazz, with sprinklings of pop and rock (see: his rendition of Poker Face). “It's the first album I've done that honors all the killers on the keys that I grew up listening to,” he says.
And it feels particularly right for right now, given the fact that Cincotti is coming up on a major milestone: 2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of his debut album, the one that catapulted him to #1 on the Billboard Jazz charts, making him the youngest artist ever, at just 18, to cinch the honor. Looking back on two decades in the business, he does have a few unforgettable memories. There was the time he shared a stage with Ray Charles ("I'd have to put that at the top of the list"). And the time he was performing at a Songwriters Hall of Fame concert and spotted Stevie Wonder in the audience nodding along to his music ("I almost stopped playing and just walked off the stage").
This week Cincotti will have his full circle New York moment—tonight he begins a five-day residency at Café Carlyle, the 90-seat cabaret space in the city's most grande dame hotel that is an experience that many consider, in the words of T&C's editor-in-chief Stellene Volandes, to be the perfect New York night. They just don't make them like this anymore, a fact Cincotti knows all too well, having come of age in—and owing so much of his career to—the many intimate musical sanctuaries that were once scattered across the grid. "When I first started those were the kind of places I played in and now none of them are left," he says. "The Carlyle is really the last man standing. And the last piece of the great Old New York."
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