Buffalo in the ’70s: Jackie Jocko returns home

By Steve Cichon

“Jackie Jocko is an entertainer in the old sense of the word,” wrote News Critic Dale Anderson when Jocko came back to Buffalo in 1972 after 15 years around the world. “The sort of guy who can sit down at a piano any place and captivate anyone within hearing distance.”

Little John Giaccio started entertaining people with his ability at the piano in taverns along Hertel Avenue starting when he was about 12 years old.

An ad from The Jamestown Post-Journal, 1947.

An ad from The Jamestown Post-Journal, 1947.

He officially became Jackie Jocko when he signed his first record deal, but he wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the name — he’d always been Jack, and the kids who couldn’t pronounce “Giaccio” at his alma mater East High School always said “Jocko” anyway.

By the early ’50s, he was performing at Buffalo’s swank Town Casino, “amid the screams and moans of hundreds of near-hysterical bobby-soxers.”



Jocko had a few hit records, and spent time as a headliner at New York’s famous Birdland night club, home of such jazz greats as Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. He spent five years at the Sahara in Las Vegas, two years at Harrah’s in Reno and almost two years touring Hawaii.

Jocko hits the Big Apple.

Jocko hits the Big Apple.

When he returned to Buffalo for good, he settled into a five-night-a-week routine at a laundry list of many of Buffalo’s greatest restaurants, from The Cloister to John’s Flaming Hearth to E.B. Green’s, where he’s been playing regularly for most of the last two decades.

Through more than 60 years of music, Jocko was always accompanied by Joe Peters, whom Jocko called his partner in music and in life. Peters died in March at the age of 92.

“Everybody likes Jackie. He just relates to people and makes them feel like family,” Peters told The News in 1994. “Jackie plays the piano but he really plays the crowd. He needs people to make his music work.”

Jackie Jocko and Joe Peters, 1972. St. George's Table in the basement of the Westbrook Hotel, Delaware Avenue.

Jackie Jocko and Joe Peters, 1972. St. George’s Table in the basement of the Westbrook Hotel, Delaware Avenue.

In a 1972 interview, Jocko talked about three principles he’d heard from preacher Oral Roberts and took to heart.

“One, is God is your source. Two, go out and do something and give of what you have. Three, expect a miracle. Just don’t hope for a miracle– expect one every day,” said Jocko, explaining one of his guiding mantras.

Watching Jocko perform, you can’t help but realize you are a part of something larger and more important than just a man with a piano and an inexhaustible knowledge of the Great American Songbook. You are witnessing Jocko’s more than 70-year long experiment in spreading love and happiness using his incomparable gift for playing music and using it to bring people together.



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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.