KoSA Music Keeps a Steady Beat

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Drummer Antonio Sánchez speaks to participants at a KoSA Music workshop.

(Photo: KoSA Music)

KoSA Music had a relatively humble origin, but today it is an international force in the world of music education. During the past 25 years, KoSA has grown exponentially under the leadership of percussionist Aldo Mazza and his wife, Dr. Jolán Kovács, who teaches at McGill University in Montreal.

KoSA presents percussion workshops and events in the United States, Canada, Cuba, China and Italy. As Mazza explained during a recent interview from KoSA’s Montreal headquarters, the roots of the organization go back to a percussion camp he attended in Vermont before college.

“I grew up in Ottawa after my parents emigrated from Calabria, Italy,” Mazza explained. “I started playing drums in a rock band, but I had a strong interest in everything from Weather Report to soul. I heard about a percussion symposium in Vermont with instructors like Gary Burton and Joe Morello. I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but I wanted to explore other styles.”

The experience of working with master musicians such as Morello and Burton was a revelation for Mazza.

“It opened up a whole new world for me,” he recalled. “I left Ottawa to attend McGill University to study music, and was off like a rocket on a mission.”

Mazza earned degrees in jazz and percussion, and became a member of Répercussion in 1974, touring the world with the celebrated group. He also became an in-demand studio musician, performing with artists ranging from James Brown to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

When Répercussion began to wind down its schedule in 1996, Mazza focused on music education, hoping to create a percussion camp environment similar to the one that first had inspired him so deeply.

“I met Peter Wilder, who had founded a record store [in Vermont],” Mazza said. “We became good friends, and when my wife and I visited him, I told him about my vision.”

“We were at my kitchen table,” Wilder remembered during a recent interview, “and Aldo outlined his vision for an educational space for drummers and percussionists to start out, then expand from there. We settled on nearby Johnson State College [now Northern Vermont University] for the premiere event.”

“I wanted it to be the ultimate percussion camp,” Mazza said. “And ‘la cosa’ in Italian means ‘the thing.’ I changed the letter ‘C’ to a ‘K,’ and that’s been the name ever since.”

The KoSA Percussion Workshop became a success, and over the years, Mazza has brought in a who’s who of great jazz and rock musicians to teach, including Jimmy Cobb, Steve Gadd, Neil Peart and Terry Bozzio.

In 2001, Mazza started KoSA Cuba, a camp held in Havana in conjunction with performances with Fiesta del Tambor, created to provide nightly all-star performances featuring top Cuban percussionists.

“It’s grown into a huge event,” Mazza said. “The evening concerts are held in a 4,000-seat concert hall, and the week-long study program features faculty like Mark Guiliana and Antonio Sánchez, plus great Cuban musicians like Amadito Valdés and Adel Gonzalez.”

KoSA’s Cuban presence has expanded beyond the Havana event (scheduled for March 22–29) with additional events slated for the Matanzas Jazz Festival (April 29–May 6).

In addition, KoSA has been presenting percussion workshops in China since 2011 in conjunction with 9 Beats Music and hosted a 2018 workshop in Mazza’s hometown of Calabria, Italy. KoSA, now based in Montreal, also presents an event to coincide with the Canadian city’s jazz festival.

To further share his knowledge, Mazza teamed with Alfred Music to release an instructional guide and DVD, Cuban Rhythms for Percussion and Drumset.

“In studying Cuban music in depth and facilitating workshops, I found it fascinating that there was a lot of confusion outside of Cuba about how deep, complex and fascinating the rhythms are there,” he explained. “I decided to write a book to help clarify these rhythms to help others to understand and play this wonderful music.”

According to Wilder, the KoSA team deserves accolades for its exceptional efforts in percussion education.

“I travel a great deal for my work, and when speaking about drums, I haven’t met anyone that hasn’t heard of KoSA,” he said. “That’s a testament to Aldo, Jolán and the KoSA Team.” DB




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