Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 7:10 PM on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just call it 'heavy mental'

Jazz-blues-rock-classical-new age-ethnic pianist plays Sunday

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Scott Cossu

Like a lot of modern musicians, Scott Cossu defies categorization. Classically trained in piano, he's also played rock 'n' roll, jazz, folk and world music. His second album, "Spirals," confused some listeners. One piece included four saxophones, the Chinese zither, cello and piano. Homer percussionist Eddie Wood also played on the eclectic album.

"Not exactly what you would call radio friendly," Cossu said in a phone interview from his Olympia, Wash., home. "People were saying, 'Here's this nice new age artist,' while other jazz stations were calling it bebop."

Cossu, who started recording in 1978 with album "Still Moments," had his biggest success as a new age pianist. With George Winston, Michael Hedges and Alex De Grassi, they formed the core of De Grassi and Will Ackerman's Windham Hill record label. His latest album is "Tides Between Us." Of that album, Kathy Parsons of "Mainly Piano" said, "I love it when musicians cannot be pigeon-holed, and Cossu presents a fascinating palette of musical colors on this album."

Cossu plays in concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Homer Council on the Arts, with a music workshop from 3 to 5 p.m. earlier. In that workshop, "How would Beethoven fit into Pink Floyd's Band?", Cossu will show how to bridge the world of classical music with ... well, everything else.

Born in 1951, Cossu studied classical piano at Ohio University and the University of Ohio in Athens — and played in a local rock band, Brud. A huge influence on Cossu was Hamza El Din, who taught a class in African music at the University of Ohio.

"He was the teacher who blew me away," Cossu said. "Hamza is the reason I'm doing what I'm doing. He turned my life around."

Considered the father of modern Nubian music of northern Sudan, Hamza El Din encouraged Cossu to do graduate work in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington in Seattle in the 1970s. In Seattle Cossu met and opened concerts for Dumisane Marare — the godfather of Zimbabwean music in North America, especially marimba.

While he finished his course work, Cossu never quite got around to writing his master's thesis. He'd gone to Ecuador to do research and about the same time got signed to Windham Hill.

"All of a sudden I'm on tour," Cossu said. "I've been living my thesis ever since."


Photo provided

Violinist Jessica Blin, left, performs with Scott Cossu.

Cossu understands the culture of classically trained musicians.

"I happen to be one of them. I studied my classical music with pride. I can talk Chopin with the best of them," he said. "The other side of the coin is I was a rock 'n' roll musician who studied jazz and world music."

Jazz and ethnic musicians can't have conversations with classical musicians, Cossu said. "I tell people how to become friendly with the formally trained street musician."

The term Cossu likes best to explain his kind of music is "heavy mental." On a tour in Alaska with Michael Hedges, a radio interviewer asked how to classify their music. It's not quite new age, classical, jazz, folk or rock.

"You know, you should put it in 'heavy mental,'" Cossu said Hedges told the interviewer.

Yo Yo Ma is a musician who actually defines heavy mental, Cossu said.

"He defies the classical world because he actually smiles and looks like he's having fun," Cossu said of the popular cellist.

Alaska won't be new to Cossu. He tours Alaska every few years and has been here about a dozen times. He first came up here in 1983 with De Grassi, who had met a guy in Utah who worked on the trans Alaska oil pipeline and set up a concert at Prudhoe Bay at a Sohio camp. Cossu has been to places many Alaskans haven't visited, such as Nome, Dillingham, Unalaska and Baranof Island. On one visit in Wrangell the local high school principal took him out to his bear baiting station. On this tour Cossu visits the Organic Oasis in Anchorage, Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood and Valdez. Accompanying Cossu is violinist Jessica Blinn. When Blinn puts down the violin and sings, expect a little something different, Cossu said.

"Here's the first person I've worked with who can start scat singing the blues," he said. "It's going to be multi-dimensional — folky, classicalish, bluesy and scat."

Cossu has been working on some new albums, including blues and jazz. With Windham Hill out of business, he's re-recording some of his compositions from those years. Some of his Windham Hill songs are available in compilations on iTunes, like his classic "Gwenlaise," on "30 Years of Windham Hill: A Quiet Revolution." Another composition, "Purple Mountain," has been included in the company of John Lennon, Beethoven and Duke Ellington, in music publisher Hal Leonard's "Piano Solos for All Occasions Songbook."

Scott Cossu

With Jessica Blinn

Gallery Concert

7 p.m. Sunday, Homer Council on the Arts

Admission: $15 general, $10 HCOA members, $5 youth

Music workshop

"How would Beethoven fit into Pink Floyd's Band?"

3:30-5 p.m. Sunday, Homer Council on the Arts

Admission: $25 general, $20 HCOA members


All tickets available at HCOA, the Homer Bookstore and online at www.homerart.org

For more information on Cossu, including samples of his work, visit www.scottcossu.com and his Facebook page.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.