The greatest strength of jazz may well be its seemingly infinite capacity to renew itself without abandoning or losing touch with its core essence. Singer-pianist Peter Cincotti, for example, would seem at 19 to be still too wet behind the ears -- at least in terms of interpreting the pieces in the Great American Songbook associated with jazz -- to bring much insight to the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Rodgers & Hart, etc. But he is one of a growing number of young performers who are doing precisely that, finding inspiration in this classic material, interpreting it imaginatively, and restoring the connections between jazz and popular music.
Making his Los Angeles-area debut Wednesday in the Sierra Room of the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cincotti offered a well-crafted, musically diverse set encompassing standards such as "If I Had You," "Falling in Love Again" and "You Stepped Out of a Dream," articulately rendered tributes to Erroll Garner and Fats Navarro, a taste of his own songwriting, and -- slyly acknowledging his own precocity as well as the idealism of youth -- the Muppets' "Rainbow Connection."
That's an impressive range of material, but Cincotti handled it with ease, aided by the strong support of a trio featuring tenor saxophonist Scott Kreitzer. His attributes include a warm, engaging vocal sound combined with a precise lyrical expressiveness, a fluent piano technique and a brisk sense of swing.
Still developing, still aware of his youth ("I don't intend to sing 'The Second Time Around,' he said), Cincotti has the potential to become, like Norah Jones, a significant member of a newly emerging generation of jazz-trained, jazz-inspired popular music artists.