Ben Cosgrove will perform Oct. 27 at One Longfellow Square in Portland.  Ryan Smith photo

Two years or so ago, I first interviewed a pianist/composer named Ben Cosgrove. His music reminded me so much of the work by artists on the Windham Hill Records label in that it was lyrical and had great depth and an emotional impact on me.

At that time he was just releasing his “The Trouble With Wilderness” album, but didn’t have a show to promote. But this time around he’ll be gigging at One Longfellow Square down in Portland on Oct. 27. He reached out to me to see if I wanted to talk with him again and said that he had a brand new album coming out. Needless to say, my response was, “Sure!” He was out on the road and had a couple of minutes to chat so I called him as he was parked on the edge of a road somewhere in New Hampshire.

Q: To begin with, could you talk about how you created the music on your new album, “Bearings”?
Cosgrove: Well, it’s weird, I used a different system this time. Most all of the songs were written kind of on-the-fly. I wanted to lean into improvisation a lot in making this album because how I’ve traditionally written records has been obsessively freaking out about it for months and years, and kind of overthink everything, sometimes to a point where I think some of the songs can lose their vitality.

And I found that when I was doing the last album we talked about a couple of years ago, “The Trouble With Wilderness,” a few of my favorite songs on that album are ones that I just kind of took a run at in the studio for the first time and improvised and then developed. So I thought that it would be cool conceptually to do a whole album that way: going into the studio with nothing prewritten, just a list of all the ideas and concepts and places and landscapes that I wanted to write about, and I’d have to kind of find it in the moment by moving around the piano. That’s sort of how I learned to play, too; you get to know your spatial environment by walking around it.

Q: Well, it works on this album. It’s a cohesive collection, a solid unit where everything comes together beautifully.
Cosgrove: Thank you, I’m delighted to hear you say so.

Q: But speaking of  “…Wilderness,” how is it doing sales-wise?
Cosgrove: Well, I was pleasantly surprised, it was the first one for which I produced vinyl and the vinyl sales were really extraordinary. They sold better than the CDs did for me.


Q: Wow!
Cosgrove: Somewhere there are enough people out there that value being able to hold it. I’m happy for people to listen to my music in whatever format they choose, but it is nice when you spend a lot of time making something, like the art work, and I like it when people want to read what I wrote about it and want to look at the pictures I want them to look at, that kind of thing. It helps me feel like I’m communicating more completely with people.

Q: As a former art teacher, I really miss the 12-and-a-half by 12-and-a-half pictures, or better yet, a gatefold cover where you could really get the whole drift of the album in that large space where it’s there for you visually. You could hear it and view it at the same time, Don’t know if that makes any sense or not.
Cosgrove: Yeah, it does. That’s usually my favorite part, actually, is package design. I got really lucky with this one. The artist who did the image on the covers of “Bearings” is named Katie Ione Craney and she lives in Alaska. She allowed me to use it. It was an arresting image that has a transparency of a landscape photograph overlaid on this card with Braille on it that reads, “every spot we’re standing on was once in a different place.” And somehow that one image magically did manage to sum up a lot of what I was thinking about as I was playing.

Q: Now when you’re performing at One Longfellow coming up, is that your CD release show?
Cosgrove: That is the CD release show and it’s going to be really fun.

Q: Is it a solo performance or will you have other musicians with you? I noticed you had a cello and some woodwinds on “Bearings.”
Cosgrove: I’ll be playing solo. I wrestled philosophically a while ago and landed on the fact that I like using all the tools at my disposal in making a record, to make them sound as rich and as fully arranged as they can be. But then, as a separate project, I want to learn how to make those songs happen in a live setting just by me pulling whatever noises I can out of one instrument.

Q: Well, playing solo you can go where you feel like going, you don’t have to make sure everybody’s on the same page for the same song.
Cosgrove: Yeah, I’ve found a lot of these songs kind of grow into themselves over time, which I think is a healthy thing for a song to do (chuckle). It happens when you’re playing with other people as well, but you’re right, I can make creative decisions about how a song should go years after I’ve recorded it.

Q: Do they change much over time?
Cosgrove: I think in several ways, it’s not: “This section comes out, this new section comes in!” It’s more about how fast I’ll play something, or I’ll make a different decision about dynamics or things like that. It’s more like the way they stretch and unfold rather than major structural changes. There are a couple of songs, even from the last album, that I play very often now that have kind of a different character than they did on the record.

Q: Is there anything, Ben, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Cosgrove: At the time this comes out the album will already be out so they should acquire or otherwise listen to “Bearings” however they can. It would make me feel very gratified. And they should come to the show. It’ll be really fun. I’m sharing the night with this great duo called Cold Chocolate, based out of Boston, but they play out a lot. They’re super talented guys. If you like my music you’ll like them (chuckle), maybe surprisingly. I’ll play and they’ll play and, in all likelihood, we’ll do a couple of songs together. Wonderful time will be had by all! And I love that venue — OLS is great!


Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

Comments are not available on this story.