“Ponte Novello”: New Bridge
Jay D’Amico is an innovator with a deep appreciation of the past - a jazz pianist, composer and musical arranger whose invention is influenced by 15th & 16th century Italian bel canto operatic melodies merged with his version of American jazz. The amalgam is a creative explosion and precedent-setting convergence of musical expression. With his latest CD, Ponte Novello, the Jay D’Amico Jazz Ensemble, the artist has literally bridged the divide across age-old Italian tradition and contemporary jazz culture, crafting a blend that moves the interpretation of musical heritage one step further in time.
For D’Amico, the combination of Italian musical culture and the polyrhythmic traditions of jazz is part of an evolution - the Americanization of Italian tradition - that is second-nature and a phenomenon that affects food, wine, music and much more. The heritage of Italian-American customs brought to the U.S. from places such as Rome, Naples and Abruzzi is part of an ongoing progression of change.
It is this progression that is integral to Ponte Novello’s genesis. This welcoming of change, an openness to new ideas, is central to the artistry behind D’Amico’s musical work. This openness means inspiration comes in many forms: the sounds of famous opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and D’Amico’s travels to Italy - visits to La Scala Opera in Milan and exposure to the lifestyle of relatives in Abruzzi. Even down to the wine he and his brother, Greg, drank together in Pisa one afternoon, a pressing of the new season, the inspiration behind Novello in the album’s title.
A classical pianist by early training, D’Amico’s synthesis of tradition was the first step in a process of originality that led to Ponte Novello. He also wrote and arranged Preludio and Alfreda, cuts 1 and 11 on the album and arranged and conducted all string instruments on the CD - violin, viola and cello.
The artist’s destiny as a musician was etched in youth. Childhood influences can be traced back to age 8, with D’Amico surrounded by a family of musicians: uncles who played accordion and guitar and his mother, a gifted singer who exposed her children to the classics, both Italian opera and jazz that she described as “superior music that takes great skill to play.” But the drive to become a pianist truly took hold when D’Amico heard the music of Polish-born composer and pianist, Frederic Chopin, whose main inspiration was Italian melodies.
This motivated D’Amico to include Casta Diva (Bellini) - Chopin’s favorite aria - on the album. Ponte Novello’s tribute is both to the Polish pianist and Prof. Myron Fink, who gave D’Amico the assignment to listen to Chopin’s favorite opera now reinterpreted through D’Amico’s vision of jazz. D’Amico, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, received his B.A. degree in Music from the City University of New York where he studied piano, theory and harmony with John Solo and Prof. Fink.
Among the other mentors whose influences can be found in Ponte Novello are jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, bassist and lifelong friend Milt “the Judge” Hinton and jazz pianist and teacher Mike Longo, an arranger associated with the late hornplayer Dizzy Gillespie. D’Amico is accompanied on the album by bassist Ben Brown, drummer Ronnie Zito, and a string quartet. Milt Hinton appears as special guest artist on track 11. D’Amico made his recording debut on Exposure Records in 1982, on his album Envisage with Milt Hinton and Bob Rosengarden (rereleased on CD in 2003 as a classic). He also appears on Hinton’s The Judge’s Decision, 1985 both as pianist and co-composer with his brother, Greg.
The recent release of Ponte Novello is the first of many musical projects that will embrace D’Amico’s love of melody and lyricism. The future holds a continuation of writing and arranging that cross-pollinates the rich musical heritage of the bel canto tradition and American jazz. Pliant, melodic conceptions await a public that has already proven receptive to D’Amico’s vision of musical blend and creative expression.
“Jay D’Amico’s Ponte Novello . . . works like a well oiled Swiss timepiece . . . fresh and charming. Pure enchantment.” Jack Bowers, Cadence Magazine
“Truly a unique combination of Italian classics and American jazz. . . Jay’s remarkably sensitive playing is displayed here in a perfect setting.” Milt Hinton, jazz bassist
“Jay D’Amico displays an exquisite touch, impeccable timing and a remarkable sense of harmonic inventiveness. . . Mike Longo, jazz pianist