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September 26, 2011
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Dave Liebman, and
Steve Grossman, who he cites as his mentor, and with whom he studied for three years beginning in 1990.
In 1993, he visited Detroit to attend a master class at Wayne State University with Kenny Barron and meet musicians, after which he studied privately with Mingus pianist
Jackie Byard in New York. While living in Detroit, he was first exposed to gospel music, which so impressed him with its passion and energy that he soon integrated it into his own developing style as a composer and performer; he eventually went on to produce a CD for the Detroit Gospel Singers.
One of the most important events in Ciacca’s career was an invitation to join the legendary saxophonist Steve Lacy’s quartet in 1997; he continued to perform with Lacy for seven years. Another key encounter that would have long lasting musical and professional repercussions for Ciacca took place in 1997. “Wynton Marsalis was performing in Italy with Elvin Jones, who is my son’s godfather. I’d first seen him at the Bologna Jazz Festival in 1989, and he really first opened my eyes to jazz then. But when I first saw him, I had no idea we’d ever work together.”
Ciacca first performed with Wynton in Wess Anderson sextet at New York’s Village Vanguard in 2004.
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In 1998 he also began to perform with saxophonist Benny Golson, with whom he continues to collaborate. In 1995, Ciacca recorded his first CD as a leader, Driemoty, which was released on the label C-Jam. In 1999 he recorded in New York City Hollis Avenue for the German label YVP. In 2002, he recorded Autumn in New York for the Italian label Splash.
After returning to Italy, Ciacca performed throughout Europe, including an
intense series of performances in London in 2003, which included appearances at Ronnie Scott's, the Royal Festival Hall Foyer, the National Theatre and the London Jazz Festival, with “The Monk Liberation Front” project, a six hour-long performance that involved thirteen musicians alternately playing Monk's unedited music; The Guardian called out Ciacca’s performance as “terrific.” After opening for Wynton Marsalis’ concerts in Italy, in 2004 Ciacca returned to New York to
again perform at the Village Vanguard with his own quartet, featuring renowned saxophonist Wes Anderson, subsequently touring with them throughout the US, UK, and Italy until 2005.
In Italy in 2004, Ciacca recorded a trio project, Ugly Beauty with the late Dennis Irwin and Detroit mate Ali Jackson for the legendary Italian label Soul Note
which he supported with a European tour.
In 2007, Ciacca’s extensive music industry experience and comprehensive artistic vision led to his being tapped to take on the position of Director of Programming at Jazz at Lincoln Center, where he works closely with JALC Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis.
That same year, he met Jana Herzen, founder of Motéma Music, at a performance at the Historic Langston Hughes House in Harlem, an intimate brownstone parlor performance space that is sponsored in part by the label. Herzen offered use of the Fazioli piano at the Hughes House to Ciacca for his
rehearsal needs, and over the next few weeks she took so well to Ciacca’s playing and compositions that the current recording deal was initiated.
The release of Rush Life, coincides with many changes at Motéma and in the jazz industry in general. The CD will represent the label’s first digital only release in the US; the project will be available at download services throughout the world as well as via Motema’s own jazz portal in the US, motema.com. It will also be one of the first motema projects to be sold in Europe-wide through Motéma’s new
distribution partner, the German-based Membran.
The CD’s title track, Ciacca’s own composition inspired by Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush
Life” is indeed a lush showcase for the pianist’s strong yet subtle stylings.
His prowess as a distinctive composer is evident on such originals as the catchy opener, “The Great Squazini,” (an insider nod to Wynton Marsalis) and “Prince of Newark” a tribute to Wayne Shorter. Ciacca’s substantial appreciation of his jazz forerunners is evidenced in both in the influences on his original work and can further be understood in the context of his unique reinterpretation of the classics “Green Dolphin Street” and the poignant version of Benny Golson’s,
“I Remember Clifford Brown” which showcases trumpeter Joe Magnarelli.
Ciacca’s Quintet, hand-picked by the pianist and producer Todd Barkan for the
date, exude a great uplifting chemistry, adding loads of charm of the recording and resulting in a loyal new ‘working band’ for Ciacca.
Now based in New York with wife (and manager) Giusi Magrì, and his five charming children, Ciacca continues to travel the world, as both as a musician and as a representative of Jazz at Lincoln Center.
GEORGE V JOHNSON JR
Director & Founder
Washington DC Jazz Network
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