|The Edmonton Journal
Toronto Jazz man is the real thing
Special to the Journal
Sometimes it seems as if there are thousands of electric guitar improvisers out there. Very few of them get the experience - here and abroad- or the attention from music veterans that David Occhipinti has had. It's not by chance either.
At 31, the Toronto jazz man finally has a self-titled debut disc of all-original music for trio out on the Unity label and auditioning the album will tell you that he's no flash in the pan. Occhipinti's tunes are well-constructed, thoughtful pieces and the chemistry with bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Kevin Dempsey is fluid and intuitive (pianist Dave Restivo also guests on several cuts). More important, the guitarist says his music is continuing to evolve in different directions.
"It's really about finding out who you are and bringing that out in the music. Some of the stuff IÕm doing is just contemporary music, more outside and not mainstream jazz. I'm just trying to get closer to what I hear in my head." Occhipinti is currently on tour with another trio line-up: bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Anthony Michelli, both old friends. But when he gets home he will be recording a new trio disc with the original Vivian/Dempsey combo for release next year. Either way, it's his music, tuneful and adventurous all at once.
A love of the Beatles and piano lessons marked the start of Occhipinti's musical education early on. He switched to guitar at age 13 and by 17 he was enrolled in a three-year program at Toronto's Humber College. A couple of years later he was playing his own material in club settings around the city.
A 1989 stint at the Banff Centre's Summer Jazz Workshop and studies with the likes of Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks made a lasting impression. "It really opened up my my eyes to what being an artist could be like. I noticed how hard they worked at their music and that there's no great secret. You've just got to work hard."
Despite some listening to early George Benson, Led Zeppelin and Stravinsky, Occhipinti's biggest inspiration as a jazz guitarist has been Jim Hall. He was thrilled then to get a Canada Council Arts Award in 1992 to study with the renown guitar veteran (along with Mike Stern, David Gilmore and Ben Monder), and was able to continue studies with Hall for an additional year.
"He's been a huge influence and I guess what I learned from him was to try and be adventurous and courageous. He always encouraged the more adventurous things I wrote, and to move forward which I guess is what he's still doing. He's in his late 60s but is still one of the most adventurous guitarists out there."
So in 1996 when Occhipinti entered a Guitars On Fire competition sponsored by Jazziz Magazine it was a pleasant surprise to find out the judges included John Patitucci, Lee Ritenour - and Hall. Occhipinti was one of 10 winners featured in his own live track on a compilation CD put out by the magazine, and while he says he generally dismisses most competitions he had no problems with the international publicity that event brought him.
And there's yet another realm to Occhipinti's experience. Back in 1991 he went to Italy to explore his family's roots and to look for performing opportunities. He found out what people said about European jazz audiences was true - "they're so appreciative of jazz and they know how to listen." After returning in 1994 to live and work in Milan he also met his wife and the Italian connection continues too as Occhipinti was back there to tour earlier this year.