Swinging either way

Spanish Jazz musician Jorge Rossy is equally at home on the drums or at the keyboard.

Swinging either way (photo credit: Courtesy)
Swinging either way
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There’s a lot of duality to Jorge Rossy’s life and work. For starters, the 47-year-old Spanish musician began his jazz career as a drummer but years later decided to use the piano as his principal vehicle of artistic expression. He will be in the former capacity at Zappa Jerusalem and Zappa Tel Aviv, when he keeps time for stellar Israeli bass player Avishai Cohen, along with young Israeli pianist Nitai Hershkovits.
Then there’s the matter of Rossy’s name. Two of his CDs as leader – Iulianus Suite and Wicca – have him down as Jordi Rossy, while his most recent release, Iri’s Blues, notes him as Jorge Rossy. But that is easily explained.
“I’m from Barcelona, which is bilingual. Jordi is the Catalan version of Jorge. My mother is Catalan and calls me Jordi and my father, who is not Catalan, calls me Jorge,” says Rossy.” I try to please everybody by changing my name,” he laughs. “That’s the story of my life – trying to please everybody.”
With an international career that spans more than three decades, Rossy evidently has also been doing a good job of keeping people happy with his musical endeavor. The list of big names with whom he has performed and recorded includes trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, reedman Paquito D’Rivera and pianist Brad Mehldau.
This will not be the first time Rossy and Cohen perform together, as he played on the bassman’s 1998 debut release, Adama.
Rossy began investigating the melodic and harmonic possibilities offered by the keyboard some years before he sat behind a drum set. “In some ways, the piano was the first instrument I really played. My sister was a piano player and my father played too, so there was a piano in the house,” he says.
However, the youngster didn’t take his piano matters too far and soon opted for what became his initial jazz instrument. “My sister was a serious classical piano player and I was lazy, so when I was 12 I started with the drums. I didn’t want to learn music theory and do all sorts of exercises,” he says.
The drums evidently struck a chord with the teenager. By the time he was 16, he had already hit the national jazz circuit, playing with the likes of Wheeler, trumpeter and band leader Woody Shaw and trumpeter Jack Walrath.
After nine years of pounding the Spanish and European circuit, Rossy decided it was time to get some education and street-level experience in the discipline’s homeland and relocated to Boston, where he enrolled at Berklee College of Music – to study trumpet. That was followed by 20 years of working from New York, primarily as a drummer, before he returned to Spain to raise a family and to help nurture his son Felix’s growth and career as a jazz trumpeter. Felix has played as leader on his dad’s three CDs.
Rossy eventually returned to his first instrument. “At 35, I realized that piano was my main love, and I thought I just have to do it, and it became my priority,” he says.
Meanwhile, he had a prestigious berth behind the drum set in Mehldau’s trio, along with bassman Larry Grenadier. But when he turned 40, he quit the threesome to develop his keyboard skills.
Mind you, it wasn’t such a sharp departure. “The piano has a lot in common with drums,” Rossy notes. “And you use all four limbs – hands and legs – like you do with the drums. You know, you use the piano pedals. You use your legs with piano less than with drums, but you still use them for coloring and playing around with that. And both instruments are polyphonic in terms of having several voices at the same time.”
Bebop founder member Max Roach is considered a pioneer in bringing previously unexplored areas, such as harmony, to the drums. Rossy identifies with that approach, but that his quest for harmonic discoveries was also responsible for his return to the ivories.
“You can look for harmonics on the drums, but you can only do that in response to the melody that is being played on the other instruments around you,” he explains. “That’s why I love the piano so much, to be able to act harmonically in the music.”
Another feature of jazz piano is that while the pianist generally gets to play from the front of the stage, the drummer normally sits at the rear. But Rossy says he isn’t interested in grabbing the limelight. “I was at the front of the stage when I was a trumpeter, so I had a lot of that. But I’m not so hungry for that today. I haven’t put out a real piano trio album yet [where the piano is front and center]. I love to comp [accompany], to add harmony and coloring to what the other players are doing. It’s sort of similar to what I do with the drums,” he says.The Avishai Cohen Trio will play at Zappa Club in Jerusalem on February 28 (doors open at 8:15 p.m., show starts at 10 p.m.) and Zappa Club in Tel Aviv on March 1-3 (doors open at 8:30 p.m., show starts at 10 p.m.) For tickets and more information: *9080 and www.zappa-club.co.il