This Wednesday, May 29 – after taking a break for five years, Michael Civisca will once again take the stage at the Pan American Grill and Brewery (Lafayette Hotel). The show starts at 6:30pm.
MC: If I ever had a group name, I think I would name it Guinea and The Jazz Pigs. I believe I came up with the name during a rehearsal break with another trio Michael (Jones) and I worked with during the late 90’s. We used to joke a lot, and I think an Italian slur was thrown my way. It grew from there.
On Wednesday I will be performing with a trio made up of my long-time piano player, Michael Jones, Cameron Kayne on bass and John Bacon, Jr. on drums.
Where are you from originally?
MC: I grew up in Niagara Falls, NY and moved to the Buffalo area for college when I was 19.
Is your family musical?
MC: Very much so. My father was a product of first generation Italians and played the accordion. He was very talented. My older sister, Debi, has played acoustic guitar for as far back as I can remember. Then, my older brother, Dee (Dominick) began teaching himself blues harmonica several years ago and jumps in with various bands around the Niagara area. My mother, well, she was a tremendous cook.
When and why did you start playing?
MC: My genre is the golden age of the American Songbook. Mostly, the first generation of songwriters (Cole Porter, Alan Lerner, Frederick Lowe, Harold Arlen). I always had a lure to this music, which was mostly my parent’s record collection of the great singers who sang this music (Bennett, Fitzgerald, Sinatra). I think it started back when I was ten years old because I began playing the trumpet so I could pretend to play along with the wonderful arrangements on those records. When I was around 15 years old, I began to write the lyrics down and found I could remember the words pretty easily.
What was the first tune that you remember “really” playing well, when you knew that you would be a musician?
MC: Check back with me after Wednesday’s gig at the Pan Am club?
Describe your first instrument.
MC: My father bought me a Martin Committee trumpet. It had a great design etched in the bell. I still have it in storage, and the valves still move like silk!
Are you schooled in music? From where?
MC: I gave up the trumpet when I started college. Before that, it was local teachers and coaches. For vocals, I had some great fortune with a few voice coaches from the Buffalo Community Music School. Cheryl Hudson was the first coach I went to in the early 90’s to see if I had a voice for singing. Then, I met the great vocal coach who started New York City’s Singers’ Forum, Andy Anselmo. I have worked with him for over 12 years. He taught me the Bel Canto method of singing, which is a great discipline for singing.
Which famous musicians do you admire?
MC: It ranges. For pop: Billy Joel (the work that was produced by Phil Ramone), Sting, Steve Perry and Bono. For lyric interpretation: Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles come to mind. For great arranging, you can’t beat people like Richard Wess, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Marc Shaiman, and anyone else who can make me hit the replay button.
Where is your favorite place to play/sing in Buffalo?
MC: Before I took a break from singing five years ago, there were some great places to perform (if we are just talking small clubs). The Calumet was always a good place, and of course, The Dakota Grill was my home for a few years. I am glad there is a buzz again for this style of music in Buffalo. People still look for a tasteful place to go out and listen to jazz and traditional pop music. I am looking forward to playing at the Pan Am club. I hope it starts a trend of new places to play around town.
Where would you most like to play/sing in Buffalo?
MC: If I could find a way to perform from a couch, that would be a cool place to play.
How would you describe your music style?
MC: The recording industry labeled it Traditional Pop when Tony Bennett had a huge hit with his MTV: Unplugged CD in the mid 90’s. I sometimes use the phrase ‘classic pop’.
How often and for how long do you practice?
MC: Before I stopped singing to raise our family, I would sing or hum something most of the time. I would always be thinking of an arrangement idea for any particular song. I would vocalize with my coach once a week and practice those exercises prior to rehearsing. Recently, to work though some vocal issues I discovered last year, I have been working with Andy (Anselmo) twice a week for the past few months.
Do you play/sing original music? If so, who writes the music and the lyrics?
MC: In this style of music, you are singing the music of the great songwriters. That is how it was done before the birth of t
he singer/songwriter. There were usually lyricists, composers, arrangers, singers – everyone had a job to do. And everyone did it well. I have written a few songs in this style, but nothing I would compare to the likes of what I usually sing.
What are your strengths?
MC: I think my lyric interpretation is pretty good.
What are your weaknesses?
Do you have a label? A recording studio? Have you recorded a CD?
MC: After a contract with Sony and MJJ Music in the late 90’s, I started a label purely to continue recording my work. It is more a name than a true label. I have recorded in most of the Buffalo and Rochester studios, as well as some in other states and a big project I did at the Sony Studios in London. That was a great experience.