Peter Cincotti

Future legend Peter Cincotti. It has a nice ring, don’t it?

That’s what The New York Times proclaimed. It wasn’t alone. The press on the 19-year- old jazz piano player has been stellar and extensive. From Rex Reed’s column to small publications in rural California, the young man is found in newspapers coast-to-coast. His fans include Dustin Hoffman and Jennifer Love Hewitt. The appearances range from the early morning “Today” show to Conan O’Brien’s late-night extravaganza.

What’s the fuss? That’s actually a question the Los Angeles Times asked recently. Is there an element of style to this artist’s marketing campaign and, if so, is it overshadowing his talent? Is he, as the Times said, jazz’s newest “It Boy” with not much beneath the surface? Or is there some true mustard behind all of this hype?

Maybe the people to ask are the judges at Europe’s Montreux Jazz Festival where Cincotti had an award-winning performance at the age of 16. Or, maybe, the nominees at the Grammy Awards; Cincotti performed for them prior to the Los Angeles ceremony in 2001.

He’s played at the White House and performed a world premiere of a Steven Sondheim piece at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He is the youngest jazz artist to perform the prestigious Oak Room at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel, the same venue that introduced Harry Connick Jr., John Pizzarelli, Jane Monheit and Diana Krall to the city. He even got to play on Charlie Chaplin’s piano, at the request of the silent movie star’s family.

Cincotti started playing a toy piano at age three and graduated to the real thing about a year later. When he was seven years old, he was brought onstage by Connick to play a couple tunes; Cincotti became a protege of the jazz musician by the time he was 13.

His self-titled debut album has already hit No. 1 status on SoundScan’s new artist chart and he recently played with the Boston Pops. The Monterey Jazz Festival comes along in September.

“It just kind of came to a head this past year,” Cincotti told POLLSTAR. “The person who was very involved with my career about a year ago was Ron Delsener. He came to one of my shows at Joe’s Pub and he was one of the most incredible men I’ve ever met. He’s done so much for me.

“He put me in Feinstein’s on Monday nights and he invited a lot of people in the industry to come hear me, one of which was Phil Ramone, who hooked me up with Concord and produced my first record.”

A few months ago, the reports on Cincotti were that he was playing shows while attending his sophomore year at Columbia University while living in his mother’s New York apartment (his father passed away during intermission of one of Peter’s shows about six years ago). Although his living situation hasn’t changed – his mom answered the phone for this interview – Columbia is being put on hold while Cincotti hits the road through the rest of the year.

“Oh my God, don’t even say it,” he said. “It’s kind of scary but, yeah, I’ve got a lot of touring coming up, that’s for sure. Just take a look at the schedule and you know you’re going to have to make some adjustments.”

Peter Cincotti

The speed of this transition is not lost on him.

“A lot of things are surreal. I’ll open up a magazine and see myself. That’s very weird to me right now. It’s thrilling, but I’m not by any means jaded by it at this point in my life. It’s new and I don’t have a real clear perspective on everything. … Even like working with Phil Ramone

in the moment, I was worrying about what chord I was playing or adjusting the chart.

I’d go home, go to bed and think, ‘Do I realize what I did today?’ It hits you at weird times.”

His manager, Mary Ann Topper, also manages Monheit and jump-started Krall’s career.

They met while Cincotti was in high school when he was performing in an off-Broadway production as Frank Sinatra. Topper wanted to see him and, although he had already left the performance, came back one evening and took his understudy’s place so she could check him out.

“Right away, I thought, ‘This is the package.'” Topper told POLLSTAR. “He had a great voice, wonderful phrasing, was very mature for his years. I found him very sincere about his talent, his need to perform, his honesty about his music and what he wants to do with his life.

That’s not always the case, even with great talents. Sometimes, there’s an ambivalence.”

She said things are in the “launch mode” right now but was already prepared for the backlash of such quick fame.

“There’s always going to be some who will say this is too much, too soon,” Topper said.

“The doubters are there immediately when something this rapid occurs. I know that because I’ve been involved in a couple of rapid rises and a couple artists who didn’t necessarily fit into the current mode or the moment. So, perhaps, they were able to establish their own mode. Or, the moment had to follow them.”