Canada's cosmopolitan Magazine

Oct 21,2007-Oct 28,2007
Accomplished jazz guitarist returns
David Occhipinti shines on his fourth CD
By Kerry Doole

Blame it on the Beatles and a stubborn piano teacher. Those factors led a young David Occhipiniti to the guitar, and for that we should be grateful, as the Toronto native is now recognized as one of Canada’s most talented jazz guitarists and composers.
Over espresso recently, Occhipiniti recalled his switch of instruments. “I played piano, but my teacher wouldn’t help me learn the Beatles songs I loved. Their music was mostly guitar-based, so I took a guitar I had in the house and taught myself some Beatles tunes. The first "jazz" tune I liked as a kid was Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme, and I eventually got a jazz teacher on guitar.”
Occhipinti’s ability on the guitar soon asserted itself, and he then studied jazz at Humber College for three years (he now teaches at both Humber and the University of Toronto). Unlike many jazz players, he was not keen on just reinterpreting jazz standards, preferring to compose his own material. “You have to come up with the forms, the melody, the harmony, as a composer. I’m more interested in telling a story with the music. I’ve always composed, from the time I was about 16.”
The major outlet for his compositional work is the David Occhipinti Quartet. Their new CD, Forty Revolutions, has just been released, and it is the fourth all-original Occhipinti album (preceded by 1997’s David Occhipinti, 1999’s Szyzgy, and 2003’s Intersection).
Virtuoso sax player Mike Murley is in Occhipinti’s quartet, and the pair have released two CDs together, 2002’s Duologue (nominated for a Juno Award) and 2005’s Duologues Vol. 2. Veteran drummer Terry Clarke and bassist Andrew Downing round out the Quartet, and all were in fine form when Tandem caught the recent Hugh’s Room CD release party for Forty Revolutions. “We hadn’t all been together since the last recording date on the CD, and we didn’t rehearse, but it all came together. You can always count on players of that calibre,” notes Occhipinti.
The Quartet (with Kevin Turcotte subbing for Murley) then left for a genuine cross-Canada tour (Newfoundland to Vancouver Island), assisted by Canada Council funding. Such an undertaking confirms the high regard in which the 40-year-old Occhipinti is held.
His fluent and melodic guitar sound is an aural pleasure, and it reflects the influence of a key musical mentor, American guitar legend Jim Hall. Occhipinti’s new CD also shows his range as a composer, beginning with the tender “Sofia’s Song” (dedicated to his young daughter) and ending with “Peace March,” a compelling instrumental protest song.
He’s been a professional musician for two decades now, not an easy task as a jazz player in Canada. After paying plenty of dues, he says, “I’m now at the point where 90 per cent of the things I do I really enjoy, whether working with someone else or on my own thing. Now I don’t really work with people unless they want me to do what I do.”
A recent career breakthrough has been composing for other ensembles. Last year, he wrote “Four Pieces for String Quartet” for the Madawaska String Quartet and “Purple Sky” for the Arraymusic Ensemble.“Writing a string quartet really changed things,” he says. “It was the first time I had written something I wasn’t performing. That was a breath of fresh air and something completely new. Now I see myself wanting to do more things like that.”
His surname is a prominent one in Canadian jazz, given that his cousins Michael and Roberto Occhipinti are also in the top rank of the genre here. Constant references to that fact rather irritate him, however. “My feeling is that I got into this music because I wanted to express something that I felt was an individual expression. To be constantly lumped in with other people that had very little to do with my development or my career is actually a bit frustrating at times.”
Occhipinti lived in Italy for a period of time, and he describes that as a life-changing experience. “I wanted to discover my roots. I found them to be very cultured. I felt so Canadian there, but I did learn a few things over there, about clothes and cooking, and how to put things together. Every aspect over there was inspirational, including the women! [Occhipinti’s wife, Mascia, is Italian).”

He receives a warm welcome when he returns to perform there, and he notes, “This has helped me understand that jazz is a language. I could still play music with people I met who couldn’t speak English, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

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