Thursday January 13, 2000
By Wes Smiderle
It's probably a very safe bet that there aren't a lot of jazz songs dedicated to Wayne Gretzky.
"I was in Italy and really missing Canada, so I tried to come up with music that reflected that," says jazz guitarist David Occhipinti, whose song appeared on his debut CD three years ago.
"It's basically an ode to Canada."
The Toronto-based jazz guiatrist comes to Ottawa on Friday and Saturday in support of his second CD, released late last year. After a lengthy build-up to his first album, the work is coming more quickly for him.
"I felt like I had shed my skin after the first CD." Shed so much, in fact, that Occhipinti sees his work now as almost straying beyond what some would consider the boundaries of jazz. "I've always listened to a lot of classical music and I write some solo pieces for the guitar that are probably more contemporary classical," he says.
Occhipinti even sees the two diverse musical genres as merging. "Some of the contemporary classical musicians are improvising more and a lot of the jazz music I listen to leans more in the classical direction with respect to composition."
Besides mixing up genres, Occhipinti also likes to juggle residences by going on frequent trips and tours to Italy. His parents were born there and Occhipinti first visited the country on a vacation exploring his family's roots.
In 1994, he lived in Milan where he met the woman who would become his wife. He also developed an appreciation for European audiences. "I brought my guitar and sat in at some clubs," he says. "I started playing pretty quickly . . . It's a good scene."
He says besides having a broad understanding of arts in general, Italian audiences are very receptive. "They're open to different things," he says. "Jazz or classical stuff, it wasn't taboo. They were very open to it."
Before Italy, the Toronto-based musician spent 1989 at the Banff Centre's Summer Jazz Workshop, jamming with the likes of Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks. He later studied in New York under jazz guitar veteran Jim Hall -- who was has been a significant influence Occhipinti's work.
"Huge," he says. "He really encouraged me to be adventurous." Occhipinti describes Hall (now closing in on his 70s) as one of the most adventurous jazz guitarists around. "I would bring in my own compositions to him. One might be traditional jazz and the other a 12-tone piece and he'd say, 'Yeah, do the 12-tone.'"
Occhipinti will be playing at the After Eight jazz club along with Andrew Downing on bass and Anthony Michelli on drums. "We'll play mostly originals and definitely a few standards." Occhipinti -- who grew listening to everything from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin -- doesn't care how his work is labelled, so long as people listen to it.
"To me music has no borders."