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Steve Cancelli - Biography
Steve Cancelli

B: November 27, 1941
Instrument: Guitar

Steve Cancelli has been playing guitar for more than half a century.  Throughout the 1950s, he was one of the more in-demand players on the scene.  Today, he is a notable jazz player who gigs regularly with Joe Holovnia, Chet Williamson, Dick Odgren and Linda Dagnello, among others.  He is a soulful player of impeccable sound and taste.

Education: “My biggest mentors are the Holovnia brothers,” Cancelli says.  “I have to give them credit.  The first time I really got into jazz was when Freddie had his Northeast Recording Studio on Shrewsbury Street.  It was back in the late ‘50s.  While the rest of the world was listening to rock ‘n’ roll, we were doing the jazz thing down there.  A lot of names came in like Rich Stepton and Jackie Stevens.”

Private Instruction: Guitar with Peter Clemente Sr., piano with Fred Holovnia.

“My early influences in the city [Worcester, MA], were Peter Clemente and John Rhines,” Cancelli says.  “Peter was the guitar guy in town then. There was also Johnny Rhines, who was working with Emil Haddad. He studied with George Van Epps. He knew his way around harmony like crazy. Internationally, it was Johnny Smith, Tony Motola and Mundell Lowe, who I finally met last year.”

Teaching: Taught at Perry Conte Studios and St. Mark's Preparatory School in Southboro, MA and privately.

Playing experience: “My first job was when I was 14,” he says.  “Anytime you got paid was considered professional.  I think the first time I got paid it was $5.  It was down at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church [in Worcester].  It was with a group led by a guy from North High School, George Perrone.  I worked at The Valhalla, The Somerset, all the VFW halls in the area, the AOH halls, American Legion halls.  The Plantation Club used to be the Queen Elena hall.  The Knights of Columbus.”

Touring and other highlights: The Bob Hope Show at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, Rita Moreno at the Andover Performing Arts Center, Andover, MA.

Discography: Monica Hatch, If You Never Come to Me (Brownstone), Two for the Road with Chet Williamson (Little David's Harp).

Photo and text courtesy of Chet Williamson.