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Roxy Coss Interview

Interview

WWBW: I've been listening to you all week and you're just a splendid musician.

RC: Thank you. I appreciate it.

WWBW: So your group had this three-year residency at a club called "Smoke" in New York. When did that wrap up?

RC: About two or three years ago.

WWBW: That group must have been pretty facile by the end of it.

RC: Well, yes and no. In New York, it's hard to have a consistent band. It's for a good reason because it means everybody is busy and working and the better the musician, the busier they are. So, in a way, it's great because there is opportunity to play but it is very hard to get your top players to be available consistently. There were a couple guys from that time period who did end up being consistent members of my band and so they were on the record. That was the pianist, Chris Patishall, and the guitarist, Alex Wintz.

WWBW: Isn't that the way it goes? Bass players and the drummers, you can't pin them down.

RC: They're the most hired I guess and for the record I had done some touring with Willie Jones, who is on the album. He was also a hero of mine when I moved to town, so playing with him in that band was like a dream come true. I really wanted to get him on the album and that tour that I did with him was with bassist, Dezron Douglas and they are a great match, so I thought, "I have to get the two of them together."

WWBW: Your new record is really broad in its compositional and emotional scope. A mix of colors or moods are of course what make any really good jazz record, but where and when in the process do you define what the mix is going to be?

RC: It's less pre-meditated for me personally. For this album, the material unfolded over that period I was playing at Smoke. I was consistently writing during that time period and then trying things out in the residency, so when it came time to record I took what I thought were my strongest compositions.

WWBW: Did you record much on the session that didn't make the record or was pretty much everything on the date was what happened on the record?

RC: We used everything. And I should mention also that the album was recorded about two years ago now and it released in January so I've actually just finished recording my upcoming third album, which will be released in early 2017.

WWBW: So the gestation period between recording and release seems to be shortening up a little bit for you.

RC: It's a huge burden to self-release. As I've grown in my career, it's been easier to get help, so this next album is coming out on the Posi-Tone record label. They give their artists a lot of support and are very involved with the process so their interest in me has helped speed that process up. My goal would be to release once a year, maybe a little bit longer but not anything more than once every year-and-a-half. It seems to be kind of an ideal release schedule for artists, so this album will actually get me on track and hopefully I can continue that.

WWBW: I did a little research on your background and you've worked as a front-line saxophonist with Clark Terry, Claudio Roditi, and most recently with Jeremy Pelt. The relationship between the trumpet and sax is ages old affair that you obviously love. Why do you suppose these cousins get along so well?

RC: I think that part of it is that the personality of trumpet players versus the sax players is complementary. If you think about what it is to be in a band or touring, a large part of that decision making in that being successful is that the people get along. I do feel that certain instruments draw certain personalities and the trumpet has a certain personality and the saxophone has a certain personality and then sonically they are complementary as well.

WWBW: When I'm listening to you in the ballads and then even when you're swinging and burning, there's still a lot of husk in it. I'm hearing maybe some of Dexter Gordon on the bop tunes and maybe Ben Webster on the ballads. Am I far off? Are you aiming for something like that? Or is that just an accident of your mechanics or am I even close to correct?

RC: Well, I would say that first of all, Dexter is an influence I can't escape. He was one of my first major influences and inspirations and so that kind of always comes through on some level. I would say in terms of a voice, I'm never trying to sound like anyone else. I'm always trying to get to my most unique self and develop that voice more and more and so the more influences I can learn about, the more choices the more flexibility I have in the tone. You know one of the benefits of recording versus playing live is that when you play a ballad you have the opportunity to play with the sound a little bit differently because people don't have to hear you in audience. You don't have to project as much, so it's actually been a challenge I've been working on to try to back off a little bit more in the studio on the ballads and get that really soft intimate sound.

WWBW: What about gear? What do you play for a horn?

RC: I play a Mark VI and I've had it since I was 13. It came through a saxophone shop in Seattle. You know most likely it had been sitting for a while. I don't know how many owners, but it was pretty in good shape at that point.

WWBW: Do you experiment with any of these spectacular new mouthpieces? Do you ever look at Jody Jazz Mac Sax, Theo Wanne, any of those?

RC: I've tried a bunch of different mouthpieces. I endorse Vandoren and I play their new mouthpieces exclusively. I find them to be super consistent and easy blowing, and dark and deep, not too bright.

WWBW: You probably use the Optimum ligature too?

RC: I use the M/O. The less material for me, the better.

WWBW: And then of course, drum roll please, the reed question.

RC: Well, this is an interesting answer, I think. At least I find it interesting which is I play the ZZ3 and I've actually been playing them since they released it in high school and in college, I kind of went through that phase where you're like oh my God what do you play and what do you play and what do you play, and then I tried like every reed known to man and I ended up coming back to the ZZ.

WWBW: When did you move to New York?

RC: I'm from Seattle and I went to school at William Patterson, so I wanted to be in the New York vicinity for school. I was in New Jersey but it's about a 20-minute drive to the city so it's really the same area and I was studying in addition to school. I was studying privately with people in the city and I would go take lessons in the city. And then my senior year, I actually moved into the city, but that was 2007, so almost 10 years now.

WWBW: What about early instruction in Seattle? I'm sure they had a pretty vigorous school music program in your high school.

RC: I don't know if you know about the programs there but they are incredible. At the time, Robert Gant ran the middle school program that I was a part of and he's sort of a legend in jazz education, especially in Seattle. He got me started. I had been playing piano and saxophone but I didn't really my love of jazz until I found him and he started me on tenor for the first time and I thought. "Oh my God, this is my instrument." And I and never let it go.

WWBW: You started with alto?

RC: Yeah, I started with alto in fourth grade. Typical band beginning and then Robert showed me the tenor and some different musicians. He would say okay, this week go check out John Coltrane. Go check out Lester Young. And he would ask me okay what do you hear? What makes this person different? How do they play? So, that was really a fun experience.

WWBW: He taught you how to listen in detail.

RC: And also just really emphasizing that each person should have a unique voice and to have that be something you're aware of from the beginning is really important. It made it interesting to me that the point of it was to be yourself, and that nobody could do what I would do. Each person in the lineage adds their own unique voice.

WWBW: How about before high school? You studied classical piano in elementary school?

RC: I studied piano and my teacher used the Pace method so it wasn't necessarily classical. I think that was what made it such a smooth transition to start jazz. The Pace method actually focuses on music theory ear training. So, we would play games. We would do activities on the board where we'd write out the key signatures and then we'd do transcription by ear and we would compose. In third grade, I was entering compositions into citywide contests and stuff like that. So, that was a great foundation to go where I was headed.

WWBW: Was there an epiphany when you said hey I'm really going to aim at this. It obviously happened by the time of high school. Did you have an inkling before then?

RC: I never really was conscious of it until high school. I just kept doing it and I kept choosing music over other things. I did a lot of activities and I was good at art and I played basketball and all sorts of different things and then when you get to high school is when you start to have to make choices with your time and each activity demands your full attention and so I just started to prioritize jazz band over everything else and again we had a great program in high school led by Clarence Acox, Garfield High School, and we did traveling in middle school too but with the high school I ended up going to Europe and we went to New York three times for "Essentially Ellington." And that was the first epiphany I had. It was the first time I traveled to New York. I was 15 and I remember coming back. The epiphany didn't happen until I came back to Seattle though. I was sitting in math class, and was like, "Wait, what am I doing here?"

WWBW: And that was it..

RC: My dad says that he knew much earlier. He's like, "Oh you just figured that out?"

WWBW: What's next for you?

RC: There's the new record coming out on Posi-Tone in 2017, and I'm doing a California tour that culminates at the NAMM show. Eric Marienthal, Jerry Vevino and I will be the featured artists at the Vanderjam to kick off the week. That's all at RoxyCoss.com.

WWBW: By the way, the head "Don't Cross the Coss," that is just too killer. I'm trying to learn it and it's driving me batty. Really surprising, clever, and arpeggiated and difficult and musical and wonderful and everything else.

RC: Thank you.

WWBW: All right. Thanks for your time today.

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