“The players deeply feel this music… a triumphant recording on many levels” Michael G. Nastos Billboard
“This is really why we listen to music: to be surprised and lifted up, stripped of our preconceptions and left breathless”
Bill Bentley - Sonic Boomer
Michael Occhipinti’s SICILIAN JAZZ PROJECT has been dazzling audiences world-wide with its unique mix of rare Old World Sicilian folk material and the New World sounds of electric guitars, chamber music, funk and reggae grooves, and modern jazz. Using music sung by Sicilian fishermen, sulphur miners, and folk musicians as a starting point, the music is like a trip on the Mediterranean that detours to Mali, Jamaica, and Toronto.
Michael's debut recording with the group The Sicilian Jazz Project, was a 2009 JUNO Award nominee (Canada's Grammy), and Michael and his brother Roberto were flown to Ragusa, Sicily in 2009 to be presented with the Ragusani nel Mondo prize for their contribution to the Province of Ragusa's culture and presence globally. The 2015 followup Muorica came about after Michael spent four months living in Sicily, gathering poems old and new, seeking out old recordings, and considering his own family’s history. The result was an ambitious album that further celebrated Sicilian language.
The Sicilian Jazz Project features some of the best musicians from Toronto's vibrant music scene, each a virtuoso in their own right, and able to freely move between genres. Long-time musicians with the group include Michael's brother Roberto Occhipinti (bass), Mark Kelso (drums), Louis Simao (accordion), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), and Ernie Tollar (woodwinds), and a number of featured vocalists, including Maryem Tollar, Dominic Mancuso, Dia, Francesco Pellegrino and Pilar (Ilaria Patassini). Brilliant American clarinetist Don Byron has also toured and recorded with the group, as have members of the Gryphon Trio and The Cecilia String Quartet. In 2023, Michael will be performing and collaborating with Sicilian vocalists Giuseppe di Bella and Daniela Spalletta.
Able to create a spontaneous street parade with its enthusiastic energy at venues such as Mexico's Zacatecas Festival, or to captivate classical music audiences as it has done multiple times at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, The Sicilian Jazz Project's broad repertoire has a remarkable versatility and ability to connect with audiences across cultures.
Michael's intention when he launched The Sicilian Jazz Project was to find a way to preserve the old Sicilian dialect from Modica (pronounced Muorica in dialect) that his late parents spoke with him at home in Toronto. Michael started collecting songs from family and musicians in Sicily, and began adapting them for his group along with the field recordings that Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella had made in the 1950s. Michael conceived of the Sicilian Jazz Project as a group that could use Sicilian folk music as a starting point, but then take off as a vehicle for improvisation and ambitious arrangements across any style. Most musicians in multicultural Toronto take it for granted that the style of music they'll perform night to night will change, and Michael Occhipinti is a veteran of groups that perform Indian fusion, Turkish music, Eastern European klezmer, modern and traditional jazz, chamber music, and funk, blues, and pop. Michael wanted the Sicilian Jazz Project to reflect the diversity of the Toronto sound even as he performed old Sicilian music. The result is a group like no other that has been celebrated by critics for its innovation.