A Grammy nominee from Ioannina
Traditional Epirus music, jazz, Laouto, classical guitar, scholarship studies in Boston and an unquenchable love and admiration for Petroloukas Chalkias’ clarinet. For an artist who manages to combine all of this – and more – and open new horizons with his laouto in combining jazz improvisation with the traditional elements of his native music, even his recent Grammy Award nomination may come as no surprise. Vassilis Kostas is one of the most important representatives of the Greek music scene abroad, showing that his talent does not obey to rules and limits.
Born in Klimatia, a small semi-mountainous village near Ioannina, the traditional music of the local area has played a leading role in his life since he can remember himself. As he has described it, one of the first sounds he can recall from his memory was his grandfather’s evening visits with his ‘heavy, traditional songs’. He began playing guitar at a very young age, entering the magical “world” of legendary jazz artists such as his beloved Keith Jarrett. At the same time, his grandfather urged him to practice with the traditional clarinetist Andreas Fakos, who instilled in him a passion for traditional music. Vassilis Kostas never ” denied ” either of the two worlds, on the contrary he combined them in the best way, opening new paths of musical expression.
After finishing school, he went to Thessaloniki to study at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Aristotle University, while at the same time he completed his jazz guitar studies at the Philippos Nakas Conservatory. Listening to the encouragement of his teachers at the Conservatory, he auditioned for the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he won a full scholarship. He began studying guitar in 2013, but in 2014 he made a very important decision for his later artistic career: to explore his musical roots through the laouto, which he first began learning in America. Guided by his love for Petroloukas Chalkias’ way of playing and his will to transfer the ecstatic atmosphere from the clarinet to the laouto, but also by his need to combine his two great musical “loves”, he left the guitar he had been studying for 20 years and started the creative implementation of jazz improvisation through his favourite traditional instrument.
After graduating with a master’s degree from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, he began to conquer the music world through the uniqueness of his music. His approach is based on using the tools of jazz improvisation through the laouto and at the same time studying the playing style of Petroulla Chalkias, which also came through a collaboration with the living legend of Greek traditional music. After meeting at a gathering of expatriates in Boston, they decided to unite their virtuosity by creating the album “The Soul of Epirus”, which is based on the cultural treasure of local music, focusing on a new, impressive “dialogue” between clarinet and laouto. The album has received rave reviews from worldwide music magazines such as Rootsworld, which also declared it ” Album of the Month ” for November 2019. It also found itself in the top three favorite albums of the same month according to the Transglobal World Music Chart, received the top spot on BWMC’s (Balkan World Music Chart) annual “Top Ten” list for 2019 and was featured on more than 20 radio stations in the US.
Despite his young age, his musical career has already earned him major honors – long before his Grammy nomination. He has won the “Forty Under 40” award from the Hellenic American Institute in New York and the “Artist Fellowship in the Traditional Arts” award from the Mass Cultural Council in Boston for his efforts to present Epirus and Greek traditional music in concert venues and academic institutions in America. The second is one of three awards given by each state in America every two years to just three musicians in the United States who are involved in the traditional music of their home state.
He is also a member of the Global Messengers, the musical group created by Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist and UNESCO Peace Ambassador Danilo Perez. This group gave him a “platform” to explore a new world of creative expression of his musical roots through dialogue with modern and jazz improvisation. The acclaimed Greek artist has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Panama Jazz Festival and WOMEX in Poland. He has also collaborated with big names of the international jazz scene such as Tigran Hamasyan, Antonio Serrano and Simon Sahin. In addition, he has performed as a soloist with the renowned Berklee World Strings Orchestra under the direction of Eugene Friesen and has traveled to Europe and Latin America to present his work. Currently, he lives in Boston where he teaches music.
Vassilis Kostas has a goal: To give epirus music the universal dimension it deserves. After the other awards, the nomination for a Grammy is a solid proof that he succeeds. On February 6, he – along with the Global Messengers band of which he is a key member – was among the nominees for the award in the category “Best Latin Jazz Album”, for the album “Crisalida”, released in 2022 by Mack Avenue Records. Even if they didn’t win the price, this was the most special – until the next – moment in his career, which is by itself an apotheosis for traditional Greek music.