Famed pianist returns to Maui to tickle the ivories
April 23, 2009
photo: Andrea Hautala.
Washington pianist extraordinaire Scott Cossu first played Maui in the
early ’80s when he was one of a promising stable of young musicians on
the Windham Hill label. That California cadre featured a talented bunch
of artists—pianists George Winston, Liz Story and Barabara Higbie,
guitarists Will Ackerman, Alex de Grassi and Michael Hedges, fusion
group Shadowfax and many others—that defied musical categorization, and
collectively defined a new genre of fabulously listenable music.
Classically trained, Cossu became enraptured with ethnic music from across the globe, traveling to Ecuador in 1977 for research on his master’s thesis. He developed a style and repertoire that is evocative and original, overlaying Latin, Hispanic, Andean and Mediterranean rhythms with his own compositions, spiced with innovative chord progressions, often blended with flute, cello, guitar and percussion.
first concert on Maui was back at the old Maui Lu, in its heyday when
Jesse Nakaooka’s luau show still played there. For a time, Stouffer’s
Wailea Beach hotel brought in top-name talent for outdoor concerts on
the lawn, overlooking the ocean. Touring after his 1989 release of
Switchback, which rose to near the top of the Billboard music charts,
Cossu played a sunset concert in that paradisiacal venue, with whales
breaching as a backdrop and the full moon rising from behind the stage,
illuminating the evening with a magical, silvery tranquility.
Soon after, his life took a dramatic turn, and nearly ended.
Crossing Wilshire Boulevard in Beverley Hills, Cossu was struck by a Mercedes-Benz and spent the next month in a coma with multiple injuries. Cossu endured an extensive rehabilitation, including four surgeries. He had to relearn every song he’d ever written.
In time, he made a triumphant recovery. His infectious smile and jubilant spirit are visible reminders of his renewed lease on life.
“That’s wild,” Maui pianist Fulton Tashombe told me some months later. “Scott stayed at my house for like three or four nights one time when he played here, and he doesn’t remember me at all!”
Cossu has had a longstanding affinity for Islands, the name of his classic 1984 release, and for Hawaii. His 1992 CD, She Describes Infinity, contains the tune “Napali Anthem,” and When Spirits Fly (1998) includes “Kalani Honua.” Tides Between Us, his new recording, features Puget Sound orcas at sunset on the cover, and is filled with warm, melodious explorations, both serenely contemplative and rambunctiously bluesy.
Longtime collaborator Van Manakas adds his unique guitar riffs, extending and invigorating the compositions. Cellist Jami Sieber, who mesmerized an audience at The Studio Maui in Haiku in 2007, provides another layer to the audio amalgamation, which also features flutist Ann Lindquist.
Cossu acknowledges the ever moving, changing, soothing qualities of water, which ultimately connects us all. Part of the proceeds of his new recording are being donated to the conservation group, People for Puget Sound. Likewise, Cossu asked that his Maui performance benefit a local organization, the Sierra Club Maui Group.