A Brief History of a Genre-Resisting Guitarist, Composer, and Band Leader
Michael Occhipinti is a versatile, sound-sculpting guitarist and composer/arranger, who has spent decades freely moving between jazz, chamber music, world music, r&b/funk, and anything involving modern guitar sounds. In addition to his previous JUNO Award and 8 JUNO nominations, Michael has just won the 2022 JUNO Award for Jazz Group of the Year as a member of Avataar, and he and Elizabeth Shepherd (ES:MO) were nominated for Jazz Vocal Album of the Year. Michael leads several acclaimed groups including The Sicilian Project, IN ORBIT ( with Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band) on saxophone, and Felix Pastorius on bass), Shine On: The Universe of John Lennon, The Triodes, and co-lead the acclaimed 16-piece group NOJO (Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra).
Michael's creative guitar playing has made him the ideal compliment to a diverse range of groups, including the aforementioned Avataar, Italian vocalist (and frequent guest with the Sicilian Jazz Project) Ilaria (Pilar) Patassini, and chamber group The Gryphon Trio. He’s as happy playing clean rhythm guitar with his funk band Grooveyard as he is creating stunning ambient sounds behind the Turkish electronic group Minor Empire. The range of Michael's musical experience is best illustrated in the many celebrated musicians Michael has performed with, including Don Byron, DVSN, Bruce Cockburn,The Cecilia String Quartet, Kenny Wheeler. Divine Brown, Jeff Coffin, The Toronto Symphony, Sam Rivers, Tony Allen, Joe Lovano, Laila Biali, Ray Anderson, Simone Shaheen, The Art of Time Ensemble, Dave Douglas, Andrea Bocelli, Roswell Rudd, Bill Frisell, Ineke Van Doorn and Marc Van Vugt, Robin Eubanks, and Paul Reddick and the Sidemen. Michael Occhipinti's touring resume includes The Umbria Jazz Festival (Italy), the Festival Cultural de Zacatecas (Mexico), the Jazz Yatra (India), The Ubuntu Project (Netherlands), Musikfest (USA), the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Canada), and numerous other venues around the world.
Michael's own projects explore everything from Sicilian culture to songwriters such as John Lennon and Bruce Cockburn, instrumental New Orleans funk, and adventurous original music for both small groups and string orchestras. Michael is currently researching music from the golden days of Toronto's Yonge Street music scene, developing a new album to be called "The Longest Street In The World."
Michael has received commissions to compose music for the Royal Conservatory of Music's 21C Festival of new music (featuring The Gryphon Trio and Don Byron), for bassoonist Nadina Mackie-Jackson and trumpeter Guy Few and the Group of 27’s JUNO Nominated Canadian Concerto Vol. 1, for Quartetto Gelato's 100% Canadian, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Guitar Orchestra. Michael’s versatile guitar palette can be heard on recent albums by vocalist Peter Campbell, the Mexican-reggae mashup of Los Variants, Italian vocalist Giuseppe di Bella's new Orfeo project, Louis Simao’s Brazilian/Portuguese world jazz album A Luz, and Michael’s work with soul/pop singer Lester McLean.
Michael teaches jazz ensembles at the Royal Conservatory of Music and at Toronto’s Humber College. He is also a guitar and pop ensemble instructor at Centennial College. Michael has given clinics at universities and schools across Canada, the Netherlands, and Sicily. Michael Occhipinti has been profiled on Bravo TV's Arts and Minds, CBC television's On The Arts, CBC radio's Canada Live , CTV’s Mike Bullard Show and TV Ontario's Studio 2. His projects have been praised by critics worldwide, including the American magazines DownBeat and Jazz Times, Italy’s Il Sole and Musica Jazz, and newspapers in India, The Netherlands, and across Canada. Michael Occhipinti served as the Artistic Director for the Markham Jazz Festival from 2009-2015, growing the festival and presenting international artists such as Lionel Loueke, Bill Charlap, Don Byron, Dave Douglas, John Pizzarelli, Sheila Jordan, and Maceo Parker. He has also been a past director of Lakefield Summer Music.
Michael Occhipinti is in the process of completing his M.A. in Composition at York University. Michael has attended the Banff Centre for The Arts jazz workshops three times, working with faculty such as Slide Hampton, John Clayton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Mick Goodrick, Bunky Green, Steve Coleman, and Hugh Fraser. Michael received his BFA (Hons). from York University in Toronto.
“The Sicilian Jazz Project is an astonishingly salient new sound in the jazz spectrum” Stephen Pedersen, Halifax Chronicle Herald
“They blew everyone away! Supergroup is a term that’s thrown around all too often, but In Orbit are an authentic example of musical synergy. The lineup features names that will get your attention on first glance, and the music these guys put together is powerful, funky, and out of this world! Can’t wait to book them again.” Paul Hinrichs, Kaslo Jazz Etc. Festival
“Occhipinti’s re-imaginings don’t sound like pure Sicilian music, nor are they intended to. Instead, they’re the sound of a musician who knows where he came from and where he’s going – and that’s a beautiful thing.” Alex Varty,The Georgia Straight
There's nothing novel about musicians drawing on folk melodies, nor is there anything new in an artist exploring his heritage through music.What makes Michael Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project stand out - apart from the sheer gorgeousness of the sound - is the way he brings those elements to bear upon his music. Playing off the natural swing of the melodies, Occhipinti gives these songs full benefit of his imagination, casting them as everything from warped bop (Jolla) to swirling, worldbeat rock (Vitti'na crozza). And though the songs may sound as old as time itself, the performances are fresh and invigorating.” J.D. Considine,The Globe and Mail