Tommy Coster Jr

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Tommy Coster Jr

2006 2001
"I think that music is an extremely amazing art form. It's the universal language of the world, and it moves people – whether it moves them to laughter or tears or thoughts or feelings. People drive to it, they workout to it, they spend time with their significant others to it, they travel to it and they enjoy it on so many levels. If you can pursue your music with that in mind and pursue it for yourself, and enjoy it, and enjoy the journey, and do what's in your heart – then there's a good chance that you'll have a very good relationship with your music and any business attached to it," reflects Tommy Coster, Jr. "If you approach it as a business, because you want to make money or meet girls or you want to travel, that puts a lot of pressure on you to succeed in doing something that's very hard to succeed in at on those levels. It's very easy to succeed at music if you do it for yourself."

Tommy's list of accomplishments makes his advice even more meaningful. He's been asked to join the board of advisors and been named Executive Musical Director for the new marketing/branding group, Iluminus, co-founded by Priscilla Pesci who was the Senior Executive VP of Marketing for MGM. In addition, Tommy has been named Executive Musical Director for a Beijing-based entertainment company named M.Y. Music. The CEO, J. Wang, brought him on board to collaborate on multiple levels, including the writing and producing of contemporary traditional Chinese music along with cell phone ring backs.

Tommy has also been keeping busy over the last few years writing original music for film trailers including those for Barbershop 2, The Honeymooners, Serving Sara, Little Black Book, Chasing Papi, Roll Bounce, Freaky Friday, Underclassman, and The New Guy. He scored a comedy, Dumber than Dirt, for Canned Films released under Universal Pictures. A highlight of his film work includes providing four scenes to be considered for the original score of Michael Mann's Universal Pictures feature, Miami Vice. "I got to write four cues for four pieces of the film and submit them to Universal and Michael to be considered for the movie. I'm not sure that they'll be used, but the process was awesome. It was an absolutely wonderful experience," tells Tommy.

Tommy has had the privilege of working with many great artists, including Carlos Santana, Sheila E., Michael Brecker, Steve Smith, Dennis Chambers, Mark Isham and many more. He has played on albums for numerous artists in the urban community including D12, The Game and Ice Cube. He wrote and performed original music for the Up in Smoke Tour DVD and the Anger Management Tour. He co-wrote the track "Heat" with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent for 50 Cent's first album, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. He also scored two DVD's entitled Welcome to Death Row and AKA Eminem. Both were unauthorized documentaries and were great projects for Tommy to use all he had learned over the years working with Dr. Dre.

The vibe is always crazy when working on a rap project, explains Tommy. "When I'm brought in as a player, I'm basically just following direction from the producer in the studio. There are some times when I'm given license to come up with parts and others when I'm not. When I'm the producer, it's much easier to define what's going on. I don't mind either one, it's just one business is a little trickier than the other."

Tommy’s 'lair' as he refers to it, is his studio space. It’s crammed with many years' worth of Korg keyboards, a grand piano and a bunch of vintage gear. It has the super-productive vibe you'd expect from the workspace of a producer/writer/player. The space at one time or another has contained everything from his old school M1, 01/W, Trinity, TRITON Classic, Electribe•R and Electribe•A, to their newer, more hip, brothers the microKORG, KONTROL49 and microX, which now surround his computer.

"It was Rachel Nicolazzo (aka Rachel 'Z'), who is one of the baddest cats in the world, playing an M1 on the piano sound," says Tommy, referring to his first memory of Korg. "I worked in a music store at the time, and I would record Rachel Z playing when she came in. When customers would come in later on, I would be like, 'Check this out,' and push the playback button. She'd be burning through some changes, and I'd be like, 'It's bad, huh?' The M1 was like the shot heard around the world. It had the best piano sound a synth ever had in the history of synthesizers, of a synthesizer at that price range, and I think in general."

Tommy continues, "I hate to practice, so I was never good at taking lessons. I learned mostly through osmosis, because my dad (Tom Coster Sr., keyboardist for jazz/fusion group Vital Information) was always playing music in the house, whether it was jazz, rock, R&B or funk. And then just being around it and just being around the instruments. I was very lucky when I was younger, because my dad was a pioneer of electronics in music. I grew up with that stuff, and I was able to learn about it at a young age by experimenting with it. Not only do I try to write good music, but I can also manipulate it and produce it and arrange it and program synths if I have to. I don't consider myself a great programmer like BT, but I know how the stuff works. The programming that's being done by Korg is very useful and appreciated on my end."

As mentioned earlier, Tommy's recording lair has a plethora of Korg gear. Lately he's been relying on some compact, powerful pieces to interface with his computer recording system. "The KONTROL49 is my master controller. I chose it because of the action, its size, the size of the keys, and the functionality it has with Digital Performer. It's very easy to use. I also use the pads quite a bit," he explains.

The microKORG has made quite an impact in the hip hop world. "The microKORG is on every hip hop track I do, either for its bass or its lead sounds. It's a very powerful and cool little synth. I think it even had a cameo in a Snoop video. Chad Hugo from the Neptunes had it in his hand," tells Tommy.

Tommy was fortunate enough to get his hands on the new microX just before we met up with him. His initial reaction to this powerful new synth was very positive, "I was just blown away at how good the microX sounded. It's a very powerful little keyboard, and I don't think I've really even explored all the layers of it. Off the bat it is killing me. The Rhodes patch and modeling, and the string patch... that thing is amazing!"

Tommy Coster, Jr. has certainly enjoyed a diverse cross-section of the industry. His walls are covered with platinum records from the many major hip hop artists he's worked with, which makes his most memorable experience to date even more admirable. "I would have to say the records I did with my dad were the most rewarding, because of the musicians that were involved," Tommy reminisced. "That type of music is something that I really enjoy. I've loved every aspect of my career and have been very thankful for it all, but as far as something I really, really enjoyed doing, it was the records with my dad. Not only because it is family, just as Korg is family, but it's just putting all that stuff together. I wrote a song during my second semester at Berklee. It was a song I had to do for a project. It actually ended up being on one of my dad's records and was performed by Ernie Watts, Steve Smith, Larry Grenadier and my dad. It was amazing for me to see one of my songs, which was just a standard AABA song, interpreted by those guys. I love old jazz, so I kind of felt like I was a part of it at that moment doing something in that genre."

Tommy's advice for aspiring musicians: "Try to get connected with people who are thinking along the same lines as you are. Try to pick people who have more experience and more to offer than you, because that kind of raises your game. Surround yourself with people that are a little further along than you are, and be very realistic about where you are and where you want to go."

Photo by Darren Young

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