Internationally acclaimed jazz pianist Antonio Ciacca teams with renowned saxophonist Steve Grossman in a new project “Lagos Blues,” to be released by Motéma Music in the U.S. on Jan. 12. Joining them is Ciacca’s regular quartet – saxophonist Stacy Dillard, bassist Kengo Nakamura and drummer Ulysses Owens – who contribute a picturesque image on the broader story of jazz.
Born in Germany, raised in Italy, Ciacca plays with a rare blend of earthiness, fire and intellect, with elements of Wynton Kelly, Red Garland and Bobby Timmons. He is the director of Programming for Jazz at Lincoln Center.
According to a news release, Ciacca began his studies at the Bologna Conservatory. At the time, he played only classical repertoire, the effects of which led him to consider switching his energies to sports and becoming a professional soccer player. This all changed when his future Lincoln Center compatriot Wynton Marsalis came to Bologna give a concert.
“What impressed me was the relationships between the musicians,” Ciacca says. “They were all proud and accomplished and dignified. They were just perfect.”
Speaking with Marsalis after the concert, Ciacca took to heart the trumpeter’s advice: “Try to swing as hard as you can and you’re going to be good.” That mission began when he sought out Grossman, whose lessons laid a solid foundation for the young pianist. After three years, at Grossman’s suggestion, he left for the States in 1993 to immerse himself fully in jazz culture, working first in Detroit and then in New York.