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Roxy Coss: Standing Out

Paul Rauch By

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AAJ: The concept is great, but the artists supplying the product need to be compensated justly.

RC: Yes, it needs to change, in the meantime Lucas and I have been researching how to set up a patronage system. If you're going to download my music for free, why don't you give me a dollar, or five dollars.

AAJ: I have a friend here in Seattle, the pianist Marina Albero who is doing that. You subscribe, and in her case, receive live videos, recordings, all of her content. She adds a very personal touch. She does live feeds as well.

RC: Something big needs to change, because the music suffers, the quality of the music suffers because people don't have as much time to put into it. People have to have jobs, and they don't have time to focus on music.

AAJ: You have had the opportunity to tour extensively as a side musician with some amazing artists. Talk about the influence of playing with impact musicians like Jeremy Pelt, Clark Terry, and Louis Hayes , and the experience of the road.

RC: Most of my touring has been with Jeremy Pelt. Touring is incredible and challenging. It looks very glamorous from the outside, but it's not, and more and more so as the industry is changing. Jeremy has been touring for years and years. He told me that this was not the way he came up when he was running the tour. It's become very do it yourself. Just having connections with individual promoters out on the road.

When I toured with Jeremy, he did everything himself. He had recently fired his manager, and did all the booking. He booked all the tickets himself, drove the van from gig to gig, on seven hour trips between European countries. It's not glamorous. 7 AM lobby calls, seven hour drives, hit traffic, sound check, play the gig, entertain the promoter, have dinner with the people who are hosting you, have a drink, and go to bed. Then get up and do it again.

That being said, it is super fun. I think it's an experience that is necessary for musicians, and needs to happen more. A lot of my peers don't get the opportunity, and it's invaluable. There's something that happens to your playing on the road.

Even just the opportunity to play the same music night after night, we don't get that opportunity in New York. It's different people, different music every night. That develops certain skills as well, but my playing would just jump, even after a one week tour. We talked about taking risks, but you can't get to the next level until you push yourself. When you're playing the same music, you're forced to try something new. Playing with the same people is a trust. That's a big thing too. Playing with different people, there is not that built in expectation of trust, you have to earn it through your playing. If they don't trust you it forces you to be more straight down the middle in your playing.

When you tour with musicians, you become a family, and that's important to the music too. Being a woman, it was really challenging being on the road with four men. But when I see those guys on the scene, and we haven't seen each other for a year, it's like family. It's like siblings, we don't have to say much, just give each other a hug.

AAJ: Coming from Seattle to New York is a major cultural shift. You have been in New York now ten years. How have you navigated these changes musically, culturally, and in terms of lifestyle?

RC: It was culture shock at first, it was really hard. Seattle is a bubble in itself, I know it's changed, but the programs I experienced here, like Garfield, were very unique in a good way. Intellectually, I was always amongst peers, and challenged. At Garfield, it was so diverse in so many different ways. Seattle, and Garfield both value the arts and science above what most of America does. I know Seattle has changed, but this was the Seattle I grew up with.

AAJ: Gentrification has not dulled the passion for the arts in Seattle. We're in our own little world in a way. We just need to figure out a way to get all these new people interested in jazz. Slowly, it is happening.

RC: I first moved to New Jersey, which is a horrible place. I was shocked that most of the students at William Patterson grew up in New Jersey and had never been to New York City. It was a choice, choosing this over the city and it was just an awful, depressing experience. Then I moved to the city and I was finally where I wanted to be. I've always been a city girl, Seattle seemed small to me always, and I'm fast, I move fast, that's my personality. New York was a good fit from the beginning. As time goes on, it's tiring, it's dirty, it's hard work to live in the city. Every time you leave your apartment it's exhausting, whereas Seattle is like the suburban city, which has the benefits of both. You can get in your car, live in a house, have a yard, yet you're ten minutes from downtown. You can walk, take the bus, light rail. In New York the people are different, I feel more comfortable in Seattle, there's a certain thing.

AAJ: It's like a big city with a small community feel. You studied in high school with Mark Taylor, the great Seattle based saxophonist. You played in the celebrated Garfield High School jazz ensemble under Clarence Acox. This is a great foundation from from which to learn the craft of jazz. Tell us about those days in Seattle, when jazz became a passion for you.

RC: I was very fortunate to go to Garfield High School, of course it really started at Washington Middle School with Mr. Knatt. Just this built in culture that jazz is cool. It's like jazz is the cool thing, not football. Everyone was good, Acox and Knatt both have high expectations, that when I go outside of that culture is missing. If you expect a lot from your students, you're going to get a lot, that's how you push your students. It's important. We traveled, I traveled to Europe when I was in high school, it was amazing. So I got to see a glimpse of what it would be like. Musically both Knatt and Acox tried to match the students with things that would make them shine, solos and things like that. They made you work for it, there was competition, that was all good.

AAJ: Mark Taylor was your private instructor.

RC: Yes, working with Mark was great. I think I met him at the perfect time, I was starting to learn improvisation with Randy Halberstadt, so I had this foundation, and by the time I got to Mark, I was hungry for saxophone and improvisation. He was a great match for me personality wise, he was so supportive. He would play me different saxophone players and ask me, ' Who is this?' I would have to tell him, ' That's Coltrane, or that's Sonny.' He would show me scales and chords, it was so great.

AAJ: He truly has an original voice as a saxophonist, and is a great person as well, so I can see him as an excellent one on one teacher.

RC: I think I was lucky he moved back to Seattle from New York, he could have easily stayed.

AAJ: What is it about jazz that inspires you, and drives your creativity and humanity?

RC: I think jazz is so important. The whole idea of it is the best of what our culture could represent. It's the best of democracy, and America, and diversity, everybody having a voice. The individual being celebrated, what makes you unique.It gives you a way to express yourself that nothing else does. It's endless, it's a process, not like a goal and completion. For me, Wayne Shorter is the epitome of what jazz represents, and that is, 'Who are you, we need your voice.' To me that's very important, I've always stood out, and never blended in. To have a place where that is celebrated is very important. That's what America is ideally about, embracing our differences, celebrating our diversity, everybody has a voice.

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