We talk with Roxy Coss - Musician, Composer, Bandleader, Recording Artist, Educator and Activist - about her latest release, Disparate Parts, and how she adds the new role of motherhood to her life.
Tell us about your latest album, Disparate Parts. How did the project start? What drove you to record it?
The album was inspired by a suite of music I composed, which explores the different aspects of being human, and how we can often compartmentalize these different sides of ourselves. These are the disparate parts of the self.
“Part I: The Body” is about the visceral aspect of you; “Part II: The Mind”, explores the more intellectual side; “Part III: The Heart” is a tribute to your emotional side, and “Part IV: The Spirit” resembles the ethereal, intangible elements that make up the human experience.
The full album also includes two other tunes I wrote, including the title track, “Disparate Parts”, which takes you on a journey through many different musical sounds and feels, and features sax, guitar, drums, and keyboards. I wanted to embody the idea of “Disparate Parts” into a single track, so the composition was actually inspired by the album coming together! I also included a tribute to my late great mentor, Harold Mabern, entitled “Mabes.”
This is the first album I have released where I’m also featuring music written by other members of the band, including tunes from guitarist Alex Wintz (“Ely, MN”), pianist/keyboardist Miki Yamanaka (“Sunburn” & “February”), and drummer Jimmy Macbride (“Warm One”). (And Rick Rosato plays bass on the record). I thought having them contribute compositionally would be really special for this project, considering I think of us as all very unique and “disparate” parts of the whole ensemble, coming together to create something more than the individual parts.
You’re a new mother – congratulations! During the recording of this album you were pregnant with your soon-to-be-daughter. What was it like to record during this time? What types of challenges came with playing the saxophone while pregnant?
When we went into the studio, I was feeling the full effects of pregnancy (7+ months in), and the energy of another human flowing through me. It was surreal! After we played the first track, I felt like I had laid it all out there (already!). I felt an energy surging through me on a level I hadn’t experienced before that. I also felt like I had finite energy to give, so on tracks like that one, I knew that would be the “take” I wanted to keep on the record. It was more physical than other recording sessions, for sure. And also more of a profound spiritual experience.
In terms of challenges, I found it hard to breathe fully starting around this time during the pregnancy, so it made it harder to play at my “fullest capacity” and I felt like I just got really tired easily, and sore. I was also “out of shape” in terms of my playing chops, since it was still during the pandemic.
Did your equipment have to change at all during the pregnancy and after?
I kept my setup during the pregnancy, but afterward, I had to take a break from playing due to a C-section delivery. When I came back to it, I started on a size down in reed strength for a few weeks, until I felt like my chops were back, and until I could blow harder. The backpressure and pressure on my abdomen was painful from the incision.
On social media, you have a series called, “Jazz Mom.” Tell us how you came up with this concept and the response you’ve had to it.
I usually share on social media, and hadn’t been posting anything for awhile, partly because I had taken a “break” career-wise to have a baby. Then I thought, I was in a unique situation. There are very few jazz moms, and jazz saxophone moms especially. So, I thought it might be interesting for people to hear about what I was experiencing.
I had a great response, especially from younger women in music, so I am going to continue posting about things in my experience related to being a jazz mom that stand out to me. It feels like a natural extension of my previous blog “Thoughts of a Female Jazz Musician,” where I’m experiencing things that I think are pretty rare, and even more rarely discussed in public. I want to bring these things to light. I didn’t have much in terms of role models, or information available when entering this journey into motherhood as a jazz saxophonist.
What are some pieces of advice for any musician going through parenthood and balancing their music career that you have to offer to this point?
Balance? HA! No, seriously. I’ve been sleep-deprived since August 2 (actually, from the beginning of pregnancy, but not as severely!)
I would say my previous life and lifestyle of working non-stop around the clock is completely incompatible with motherhood. Our industry is not friendly for parents, especially mothers, but neither is our society in general. You’d think with the human population depending on women having babies, that we would take better care of them.
I think it was smart to have a solid foundation of family and finances before entering this journey. I think having a strong community of friends/family is important. And, I think that what they say about it “never being a good time” to have kids is true. You just have to do it. It is a leap of faith, and those are always good decisions, in my opinion!
What are you looking forward to next in your career?
Getting back to performing for people in person! I just completed my first tour back after pregnancy-and-pandemic. It was challenging, as I brought along my then 6-month-old daughter (and husband to watch her!), and I’m about to embark on a second trip, also enlisting my Mom and Mother- & Father-in-Law to help this time. I’m glad to be touring, traveling, and teaching again. And, I’m beyond thrilled to bring the music on my new album to the listeners! Disparate Parts was a long time coming, and I worked on it through some huge life changes, so I’m proud of how it turned out. It releases March 25, 2022 on Outside in Music, and all major platforms!
About Roxy Coss
Roxy Coss has become one of the most unique and innovative Saxophonists on the scene. Winner of an ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award, the Downbeat Critics’ Poll has listed her in the "Rising Star" category on Soprano Saxophone the past seven years in a row, calling her "An exceptional young talent”. Jazziz Magazine listed her an “Artist to Watch," and she was the recipient of the Hothouse Magazine & Jazzmobile “Tenor Saxophone” Award. The Roxy Coss Quintet was awarded the Emerging Artist Project, a four-year grant program from the Local 802 AFM Musician's Union of Greater New York. She is the Founder and President of Women In Jazz Organization (WIJO), and serves on the Board of Directors for the Jazz Education Network (JEN). Roxy is a Jazz Faculty member at The Juilliard School and an Artist-in-Residence at Arizona State University. She is also an endorsing artist for P. Mauriat, Vandoren, and Keyleaves products. Read more about Roxy on her website.