Episode 14-Roxy Coss: Students Are the Music

“When you’re teaching jazz, you’re a messenger of the music.”

-Lucas Pino

For tenor saxophonist, composer, bandleader, educator and artist Roxy Coss, jazz education is everything. When we talked in July, she and her husband, saxophonist, educator and composer, Lucas Pino, just returned from their week-long session as co-directors of the Brubeck Jazz Summit, (yes, that Brubeck-Dave Brubeck) a week-long intensive emersion of jazz education and performance for talented students worldwide. To participate, young people must have exceptional capacity. To teach, your credentials must be superior. 

For Roxy, this a family jazz event for young musicians, nurtured by the Brubeck family, whom Lucas Pino was fortunate to befriend over the years.

In this episode, Roxy Coss shares her deep thoughts and intense feelings about two of her major passions: jazz education and creating an environment in the jazz ecosystem that values women and nonbinary individuals. 

Roxy also reveals a more personal side of herself as we talk about the socio-political-pandemic choked environment that has embraced our nation since 2016 and how these have influenced her compositions in all her recordings as a group leader. 

Roxy founded WIJO-Women in Jazz Organization in July 2017, a collective of over 500 professional jazz musicians and composers who identify as women or gender non-binary. WIJO is largely a New York-based organization, but it has made connections to other individuals and groups nationally and internationally to address the many inequities in the jazz music industry. Roxy currently serves as its president. It has various programs including a popular mentorship program, WIJO Mentors. It also sponsors concerts and jam sessions.

The jazz industry remains predominantly male due to a biased system, says Roxy Coss. It imposes deep wounds in many women musicians who seek the approval of their jazz elders who are mostly male and senior in their years. So, how can women excel in this jazz ecosystem, Roxy wonders. She points out that women seek to perform but are left waiting to be selected by bandleaders who are mostly male and have deep relationships with other men from their schools and communities. 

But in Roxy’s music education career, she had numerous outstanding opportunities since she was five years old. She actually composed at an early age when she was in third grade, writing her first award-winning composition in a city-wide contest called “Reflections.” Later, she attended Garfield High School (alumnae/i include Ernestine Anderson, Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix), a rich and fertile place for Roxy’s jazz education. She was a member of the Garfield HS Jazz Band when they set a record in 2003 and 2004. It is the only band to win the first-place trophy in two consecutive years in the highly competitive Essentially Ellington contest. The band also placed first in 2009 and 2010. Roxy is also a winner of the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award.

It is no wonder, then, that Roxy currently serves on the Jazz Education Network (JEN) Board of Directors and is a Jazz Faculty member at the prestigious Juilliard School. 

With these credentials, Roxy considers herself to be an activist and an artist, folding in all the above titles and credentials. Her artistic talents exceed the commoner in so many ways, yet she remains humble yet passionate in how she approaches music education and performance. One thing she does say: “As a jazz musician I’m committed to being a life-long-learner.” And it shows.

“Being a jazz musician is hard; it’s a calling.”

-Roxy Coss

Roxy’s discography includes her self-titled recording, Roxy Coss, which is a self-released album (2010), Restless Idealism (Origin, 2016), Chasing the Unicorn (Posi-tone 2017), The Future is Female (Posi-tone 2018), Roxy Coss Quintet (Outside in Music 2019), and Disparate Parts (Outside in Music 2022)Roxy plays the same instrument she’s played since 2018, a P. Mauriat.

In this episode, there are two tracks from Roxy’s latest album, Disparate Parts, thanks to Roxy and the record label, Outside in Music. The Lineup includes:

Roxy Coss, saxophones

Miki Yamanaka, piano/Rhodes

Alex Wintz, guitar

Rick Rosato, bass

Jimmy Macbride, drums

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Photo of Roxy Coss by Desmond White.

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