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.  A nine-time JUNO Award nominee, Michael leads several acclaimed groups including The Sicilian Project, Shine On: The Universe of John Lennon,  The Triodes, and the 16-piece group NOJO (Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra).  Michael's newest group IN ORBIT features Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band) on saxophone, and Felix Pastorius on bass.   

Michael's creative guitar playing has made him the ideal compliment to a diverse range of groups,  including modern jazz singer Elizabeth Shepherd, Indian fusion group Avataar, 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 vocalists such as Italy’s Pilar.  The range of Michael's musical experience is best illustrated in the many celebrated musicians Michael has performed with, including  The Cecilia String Quartet, Divine Brown, Don Byron, Bruce Cockburn, Jeff Coffin, Joe Lovano, The Toronto Symphony, Laila Biali, The Art of Time Ensemble, Ray Anderson, Dave Douglas, Sam Rivers, Tony Allen, Andrea Bocelli,  and Kenny Wheeler.  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), and the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Canada). 

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 and big band arrangements of Pink Floyd.  He is currently researching music from the golden days of Toronto's Yonge Street music scene, and together with Elizabeth Shepherd recording them for a new album to be called "The Longest Street In The World."    

Michael has been commissioned 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, and for Quartetto Gelato's 100% Canadian.   Michael’s versatile guitar palette can be heard in the Turkish electronic/psychedelic group Minor Empire, drummer Giampaolo Scatozza’s electronic loop driven group Junik, Louis Simao’s Brazilian/Portuguese world jazz project, the Mexican-reggae mashup of Los Variants, 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. 

“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 

DISCOGRAPHY

Michael Occhipinti's newest album MUORICA explores Sicilian language and music with a brilliant cast of musicians and inventive arrangements that freely cross genres!

Michael Occhipinti's newest album MUORICA explores Sicilian language and music with a brilliant cast of musicians and inventive arrangements that freely cross genres!

2012 - The music of John Lennon and the Beatles gets re-imagined, with surprising arrangements and unique vocalists.

2012 - The music of John Lennon and the Beatles gets re-imagined, with surprising arrangements and unique vocalists.

NOJO, the Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra, performs its unique arrangement of Pink Floyd's classic Dark Side of The Moon live in concert.

NOJO, the Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra, performs its unique arrangement of Pink Floyd's classic Dark Side of The Moon live in concert.

The Triodes is an instrumental funk group influenced by The Meters, Booker T, and jazz jam sound of Medeski Martin and Wood and John Scofield.  The record features great grooves and catchy riffs.

The Triodes is an instrumental funk group influenced by The Meters, Booker T, and jazz jam sound of Medeski Martin and Wood and John Scofield. The record features great grooves and catchy riffs.

A 2009 JUNO nominee, Michael Occhipinti's "The Sicilian Jazz Project" uses Alan Lomax's recordings of miners and peasants as a jumping off point for a passionate and compelling interpretation of Sicilian folk songs as a blend of jazz and world music.

A 2009 JUNO nominee, Michael Occhipinti's "The Sicilian Jazz Project" uses Alan Lomax's recordings of miners and peasants as a jumping off point for a passionate and compelling interpretation of Sicilian folk songs as a blend of jazz and world music.

Released in 2007, the JUNO nominated Chasing After Light showcases the range of Michael Occhipinti's original jazz writing, with great melodies, compelling song forms, and a array of guitar sounds.

Released in 2007, the JUNO nominated Chasing After Light showcases the range of Michael Occhipinti's original jazz writing, with great melodies, compelling song forms, and a array of guitar sounds.

NOJO recorded its 5th album (and 5th JUNO nomination) while on tour with legendary saxophonist Sam Rivers.  The band slimmed down to a 9-piece for the tour behind Rivers, and the album is the sound of NOJO having fun behind one of jazz's legendary improvisors.

NOJO recorded its 5th album (and 5th JUNO nomination) while on tour with legendary saxophonist Sam Rivers. The band slimmed down to a 9-piece for the tour behind Rivers, and the album is the sound of NOJO having fun behind one of jazz's legendary improvisors.