2020 Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival Hall of Fame Inductee

Joe Occhipinti

Joe Occhipinti started playing saxophone in the Pecksville, Pennsylvania school band in the sixth grade. He continued to play locally in “big band” groups and combos and in the Scranton area. J never having what he considered “real music education” other than his public school music training.

When he moved to New York, Occhipinti went to the jazz clubs like the Metropole and listened to Coleman Hawkins and Buddy Rich. It was then he took lessons from Joe Napoleon who taught him a numbered system for playing jazz so Occhipinti learned to improvise and harmonize on the chords in the melody. The swing came naturally to him; he didn’t have to learn that.

After Occhipiniti was drafted and in basic training in 1959-60, he auditioned for the Army Band and was accepted. He was sent to Frankfurt, Germany to play in the 3rd Armoured Division Band.

A high school pal from Pennsylvania connected Occhipinti with a job playing for Ray Spivey and Krazy Kats, a touring band out of Pensacola. The experience was invaluable.

Occhipinti calls himself an “uneducated musician” who never wanted to be a star or recording artist. He confesses that he has to create either places to play or events to make music. His countless gigs from Mobile to Panama City have made him a legendary figure on the Gulf Coast.

Occhipinti is very proud of being a founding member of Jazz Pensacola, a member of the Civic Band, an officer and board member of the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed (MOJO), musician’s union #777 from Biloxi and Pensacola’s Sons of Italy chapter.

 “Music is something that I never said, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore,’” Occhipinti said. His devotion to the music he loves is apparent in his continued desire to bring jazz to those who already love it and to introduce it to those who may not yet know it.