Scott Cossu was considered a renegade during his career as a Windham Hill recording artist. His piano compositions were embraced as New Age music by the record company, but he'd always end his live performances with Beatles songs.
"Me and Michael Hedges," Cossu says during a telephone interview from his home in Olympia, Wash. "We toured together quite a bit. The label didn't discourage us from playing jazz, boogie and blues styles, but they didn't want us calling ourselves anything but New Age artists."
Who: Scott Cossu and John Croarkin
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19
Where: Old Siskiyou Barn in Ashland
Call: 541-488-3869 or email email@example.com for reservations and directions
Cossu recorded with Windham Hill for nearly two decades before the label was sold to BMG in 1992, then merged with Sony in 2008.
"I think my best-selling Windham Hill record was 'Islands,' " Cossu says. "While Windham Hill called it a New Age album, its music really stretched the limits. It fit on New Age, jazz and R&B charts."
"Islands" was released in 1984 and began a decade of collaborations with flutist Dave Valentine, bassist Mark Egan and drummer Danny Gottlieb.
Cossu will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, in the Old Siskiyou Barn in Ashland. Tickets cost $25, and reservations and directions are available by calling 541-488-3869 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. He'll be joined by John Croarkin on flute, harmonica and saxophone.
Cossu has tried to figure out how to describe his style of music for 30 years.
"When Windham Hill was founded as an independent label, you could only buy the records in stores that sold incense or massages. And everyone assumes you're a vegetarian when you're a New Age artist."
As a teen growing up in Ohio, Cossu trained classically and played rock 'n' roll and R&B in local bands. He went on to study piano, music theory and composition at Ohio University's School of Music.
It was during his third year at Ohio University that Cossu met Hamza El Din, a musician and teacher from northern Sudan, Africa, who would set the young composer on a new course. Hamza taught world music and encouraged Cossu to study ethnomusicology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Cossu would spend two years learning the music of Thailand, Vietnam, Sudan, Korea, China, Romania and Ecuador.
"Hamza and Mickey Hart became acquainted about the same time Hamza was playing with Kronos String Quartet," Cossu says. "So he had the Grateful Dead on one hand and classical on the other. That sort of relates to the music that I play. I was studying Chopin but playing rock 'n' roll and R&B with high-school bands. There was a big Motown and Memphis influence in southwest Ohio, and the British Invasion was happening."
This year, Cossu recorded "Jazz, Boogie and Deja Blues" on the Summit Records label based in Arizona. The album is a collection of 11 toe-tappers that give listeners a good look at this part of Cossu's musical personality. Nine of the tracks cover Horace Silver's "Nutville" and "Sayonara Blues," Billy Taylor's "Old Man Mambo," Stanford King's "Kansas Ditty" and "Boogit Brother," Charlie Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square" and Jimmy Dorsey's "JD Boogie."
Two, "Moira" and Deja Blues," are Cossu's originals.
Along with Cossu, musicians on the album include Van Manakas on acoustic and electric guitars, Steven Banks on drums, Dan O'Brien on bass and Ann Lindquist on flutes.
"The Ashland show will be a mix of songs from the new album and Windham Hill pieces," Cossu says. "It will be well-rounded. I manage to stay successful without being categorized."