A new jazz legend
Saxophonist Roxy Coss is jazz's new queen
By Kaely Monahan
Roxy Coss is creating her own legend within the jazz community. The saxophone player is collecting accolades right and left including the 2016 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award and the Downbeats Critics Poll’s “Rising Star” distinction. She will be playing The Nash in downtown Phoenix Wednesday evening, Feb. 24.
Hot on the tour for her latest album release Restless Idealism, Coss took some time out of her business schedule to chat with GetOut about growing up jazzy, the method to her music, and how Restless Idealism showcases her growing maturity as a millennial jazz composer.
Based now in New York City, Coss is originally from Seattle, Wash. She started music young.
“In Seattle, they have pretty good arts and music programs in the schools,” she said.
In kindergarten she started on the piano. It was apparent to her teacher at the time that she had a gift for music. At the instructor’s prompting, Coss’ parents got her private lessons.
In the fourth grade, Coss touched the instrument that would change her life as a musician.
“That’s when I started playing the saxophone and really ended up loving it. That took over from piano more and it became my main instrument in middle school. In middle school was the first time I got to play in a jazz band and I started playing the tenor sax instead of the alto. (That’s) when I really fell in love with it.”
She was 9-years-old when she started the saxophone and by 15, she made the decision to pursue jazz professionally. There has been no looking back. In middle school she was under the instruction Robert Knatt, who she describes as being a legend in the Seattle music programs.
“He got so many great jazz musicians started with jazz. (He’s) just a great educator,” she said fondly.
In high school, she was able to tour internationally with her high school jazz band. Those experiences just fed her love of the genre and she dove further into the music of the jazz greats.
“Some of my first inspirations were, of course, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Stanley Turrentine — and then it evolved from there. Wayne Shorter became a big one — and then from there it sort of (grew) exponentially,” she said.
You can hear those influences in her music, particularly in “Restless Idealism.” When Coss plays the sax it’s like a voice singing. There’s an approachability to her music that welcomes everyone. You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to appreciate her music.
“To me, what’s most important about the music I listen to is always the feeling of it. I think that jazz musicians, as they get more technically able, and further and further into the jazz they start to become very focused on the technical aspect of it. And I think that is where a lot of people start to lose the general public,” she explained. “For me, it’s always been very important to remember that it’s all about the way it feels and (the way) it makes people feel when they listen to it.”
Coss added that when she sits down to compose a song she wants to take her listeners on a journey. It should feel like an adventure. It should also be fun for her band members. The music she writes has room for improvisation and collaboration.
“It’s not something that’s just like here’s the end, now play it…There’s definitely input but it’s mostly my direction,” she said. “(But) a lot of the things I write can be interpreted in different ways.”
While her first self-titled album was truly her introduction to the world, her second album “Restless Idealism,” which just came out in January, has a core focus. It hones in on taking listeners on that journey she spoke about.
“It’s starting to show more where my voice really is lying,” she said. “And I hope to keep moving in that direction.”
At The Nash, Coss will be playing with her husband and special guest, Lucas Pino — who is an Arizona native — in addition to local Arizona jazz artists. Coss said she loves to go to different cities and get a feel for their style of jazz.
“It’s always a fun experience for me to play with local musicians because every place has a unique vibe and a unique sound. It’s really fun to bring my music — which I know so well — and hear different musicians’ perspectives on that. I’m really looking forward to hearing the Arizona perspective on my compositions. It will be really fun.”
In addition to her Phoenix performance, ASU jazz students will get the chance to take her master class on Feb. 29. Don’t miss your chance to see Coss live. Tickets are $20, $10 for students with ID. Get more information at thenash.org.
Originally published Feb. 23, 2016 on GetOutAZ.com.