Spoleto 2008 » Jazz, Blues & Roots Music

Stefano "Cocco" Cantini Quartet

Saxophonist tears down the wall between classical and jazz

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What is it? Accomplished Italian composer and saxophonist Stefano "Cocco" Cantini performs his U.S. debut with plenty of Mediterranean flair.

Why see it? Cantini's peppery style accentuates the dynamic grooves on his latest studio album, L'Amico del Vento. He's equally concerned with the melody as he is with improvisation during a performance. The Tuscan-born artist blends traditional American jazz styles (John Coltrane's bebop style and Wayne Shorter's powerful tones, in particular) with traditional Italian folk and classical work. Whether with a small jazz combo in a wine bar or under the baton of the ghost of Arturo Toscanini, Cantini's versatility allows for terrific melodic invention and exploration.

Who should go? Fans of Mediterranean music, cool bebop, and saxophone solos.

Spoleto Festival USA $25-$40 1 hour 15 min. May 25 at 9 p.m. The Cistern, 66 George St. (843) 579-3100




A Student of Melody: Saxophonist tears down the wall between classical and jazz

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Considered one of the top soprano saxophonists in Italian jazz, Stefano "Cocco" Cantini is a highly individual composer and versatile improviser determined to explore the common ground between bebop jazz, Mediterranean folk and pop, and classical music.

The Tuscan-born artist blends traditional American jazz styles with Italian folk and classical work. Whether with a small jazz combo or a larger, more orchestrated ensemble, Cantini's versatility allows for terrific melodic invention and exploration.

Cantini's gentle but peppery playing style accentuates the dynamic grooves on his latest studio album, L'Amico del Vento, which translates into "a friend of the wind." There's a lilting musical conversation between the piano work of Rita Marcotulli and Cantini's saxophone on the album.

"The most important thing for me is melody," Cantini says. "The goal with that album was to destroy the wall between classical music and jazz. Mixing them together was the idea."

Cantini, 51, grew up listening to a variety of acoustic folk music and jazz. His first musical experiences came with playing in the city band.

"When I was a child, I started out playing trumpet, but I switched over to playing saxophone instead," he remembers. "I was fascinated by this strange kind of instrument and interested in finding out what kind of music could come from it."

Cantini names his favorite and most influential saxophonists as John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, and John Simon.

His on-stage experiences in the U.S. have primarily been sideman roles, as part of backing bands with various popular singers and acts, including Ray Charles and Phil Collins. Cantini's current combo features drummer Roberto Gatto, upright bass player Paolino dalla Porta, and pianist Ramberto Ciammarughi. This Wachovia Jazz Series event marks his first proper solo debut. It should be a memorable one.

"In a larger band setting with violins and other instruments, the situation is more structured," he says. "There's less chance for improvisation than with a smaller combo. With four musicians, you can play and try to explore something new while you're playing. With strings following a part and following a structure. It's more fixed."

Some American jazz fans may be hip to Cantini's music already, but few know the story behind his amusing nickname.

"The word 'cocco' is the translation of 'coconut' here," Cantini explains. "When I was a child, I really liked ice cream. The one I liked most had a comic print design of a cowboy character [named Cocco Bill]. That's why my friends nicknamed me Cocco."

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