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Roxy Coss: Standing Out

Paul Rauch By

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AAJ: Talk about your current projects you're working on, whether on stage, or in the studio.

RC: I just recorded my next album, another one with Posi-Tone with the same band, except the piano player is Miki Yamanaka. Mostly my originals, so that will come out in early 2018. That's the main thing.

I just played with Rufus Reid's Big Band last weekend, that's a new project for him. I met Rufus in 2011, at the Ravinia Program. He was my ensemble coach , so he mentored me there. Last year I ran into him again, I was doing a big band, The New York Jazzharmonic. They had commissioned him to write a piece for the big band, and so he heard me play that piece. He was putting this thing together for Dizzy's, so that was incredible.

AAJ: You come from a very creative family, including your mother, the prominent artist, Mary Coss. Talk about these roots, and how they impacted your path to jazz, and the saxophone.

RC: Both of my parents are actually artists, they both have masters in fine arts degrees, so they met through that world. The family culture on both sides of my family is very creative and arts based. My Dad's family is very musical, my Dad is one of six. My grandmother sang and played piano and organ in church, she always took credit for my musical career. She used to watch me when I was a baby, and got me doing pots and pans and all that stuff. When I was in kindergarten we had music class, I went to Graham Hill Elementary. Cherrie Adams was my music teacher, we had keyboards, and she could tune into each kid. She went to my parents and said 'Roxy is really playing some interesting stuff on piano, maybe you should consider getting her some private lessons.'

My parents signed me up with a piano teacher in town, Nan Beth Walton. She teaches the Pace Method, which is very cool. It's very theory based, and ear training based, composition based. We would do two lessons a week, one was a partner lesson, and one was a group lesson. We did all these games, learning key signatures, music theory, ear training exercises, transcribing. We had to enter composition contests, so we had to learn how to write down our compositions. She would help us use the music notation software.

Just to add about my family, I think the stars aligned in that I had a musical family background, an artistic background, amazing programs, and a feminist family. When I was fifteen I went to Essentially Ellington for the first time, went to New York, fell in love, and was the first time that I thought that I'm going to do this professionally. When I told my Dad, he told me that he had known for a long time. My parents would not limit me in something that I was clearly passionate about, and could be extremely successful at. So he saw it at a young age, and my parents gave me opportunities. They sent me to Centrum, to Stanford, to the UW workshop, got me private lessons

AAJ: What was your age then?

RC: I started when I was six or seven. I had an understanding of music at a really young age through that. My parents saw that I was really passionate about it, so I started saxophone in fourth grade.

AAJ: How did you choose the saxophone specifically?

RC: They didn't actually hand us instruments specifically, they just presented us with choices, and asked us what are our first, second and third choices were. My parents are extremely feminist and progressive.They were very open minded gender wise. Saxophone was my first choice, flute the second and drums the third. I think beyond that, your instrument kind of finds you. I did try the flute, my mom had played the flute in college, so we had one around the house. I played piano. My Dad plays bass and guitar. Any of those could have ended up being my instrument. But I started alto, and went to Washington Middle School with Mr. (Robert) Knatt. He took one look at me and said, 'You need to play the tenor, you're tall.' I was really tall. I tried it once and knew it was my instrument. It felt different in a way I had never felt.

AAJ: Was there an artist, or an album that blew your mind early or that drew you to jazz?

RC: My Dad listened to Coltrane and Miles when I was in elementary school, and I would say to him, ' I hate that, turn it off, what is that weird stuff?' It wasn't until I was in Middle School playing in jazz band that I started to understand it. Mr. Knatt would tell us to check out albums. My Dad would take me to the record store and buy me certain CD's. My first loves were John Coltrane's Bluetrane (Blue Note, 1958), and Cannonball Adderly's Something Else (Blue Note, 1958). So Coltrane and Cannonball. Miles Davis' Someday My Prince Will Come (Columbia, 1961), Art Blakey's Moanin' (Blue Note, 1958). I was really into that whole era.

AAJ: I still am!

RC: Me too, it's still my favorite.

AAJ: Your family environment helped you traverse a lot of the obstacles that led to you finding your creative self, and becoming a professional artist.

RC: Yes. My mom is a professional visual artist, I saw that freelance artist life as an option, and thought, ' Of course I can make a living doing this." My mom was reading a book when I was in high school, "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow." That mantra was something I believed because I saw it. When you're a kid, you believe what you hear.

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