Introducing Pete Coco: An Ultimate Artist
LIHSA Welcomes LIHSA Alum, Musician, Photographer Pete Coco
LIHSA Alum and Spring 2022 Artist-in-Residence Peter Coco is the kind of artist who would be impossible to describe with just a couple of words. Or even in a single sentence. Instead, he’s the type of artist who not only shines in multiple mediums but can help illuminate paths for other artists as a teacher and teaching artist as well.
The Beginning: Finding LIHSA in High School
Growing up in Valley Stream, as a child Pete loved creating all kinds of visual art. He equally loved music and started playing piano at an early age. In junior high, he focused more on visual art in school. Meanwhile, at home, he picked up the electric bass which he started playing as a default instrument, “My older brother played drums and my younger brother played guitar so if we were going to play together, I’d have to play bass,” Coco says simply. And while he may have begun bass by default, he quickly fell in love with the instrument. The brothers Coco often played in their church where they were challenged to play many different musical styles including Gospel and pop. They learned music by ear and at home Coco got further into rock bands of his era: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Stone Temple Pilots among his favorites.
While electric bass became a greater passion, he found he couldn’t participate in his school’s music program, which only had room for upright bass. However, his sister was a dance student who attended Cultural Arts Center, as LIHSA was then known, and suggested to her brother that he might want to go there. By then he was familiar with CTE programs, having spent a year at Barry Tech studying visual art, so he decided to apply and audition. As a self-taught musician, he found musical worlds to discover under some wonderful teachers who taught him how to read music, gave him a great foundation, drilled him on chord charts, and showed him the possibilities that music might be a career path. He played bass and even used his piano skills to accompany his classmates on pieces.
College and Early Work Life
Pete Coco’s dad owned a display fixtures factory. Knowing that working for the family business might not be a good fit for his son, Mr. Coco suggested to Pete that he apply to a local camera store citing, “It might be fun and you could learn a skill you might end up using.” Pete recalls he had to apply four times to work for the store before the owner relented saying “You’ll have to learn photography.” Since these were days long before the internet, Pete immediately went to the Valley Stream Library and took out 12 books about photography and learned as much as he could. He promptly fell in love with photography which took over as his primary visual arts medium over drawing and painting.
Pete worked at that photography store to get him through college and then part-time for many years after he graduated too.
He started his schooling at Nassau County Community College, and decided he’d audition for the music program with his electric bass where he was asked if he could learn to play an upright. When he said yes, he was told “Great, see you Tuesday night for Orchestra Rehearsals.” And with those words, Pete’s new path of learning and mastering the fundaments of yet another new instrument, and new musical genres – classical and jazz – was set forth. He was told by one of his teachers to listen to an album by Jazz Great Bill Evans, particularly to study the work of bass player Scott Lafaro. Dutifully, he went to Tower Records to pick up this CD and a whole new world was open to Coco and a life-long passion for jazz music began on the spot.
When he graduated NCC, he went on to study at Hofstra where – while he studied jazz – he also practiced his photography by shooting sports games for the school newspaper.
After graduating Hofstra, he earned his Master’s Degree at SUNY Purchase where he could take jazz music to the next level. In his class there were quite a few fellow students who also moved on to prolific music careers.
After Grad School and Through the Pandemic
He graduated Purchase in 2006 and upon returning to Long Island, he started teaching at Hofstra University (he’s now in his 11th year of teaching) – giving bass lessons, conducting jazz combos, and even running a Chamber Music Program for a while.
He also decided to open his own music school, the Music Academy Foundation, which expanded to include musical theatre program in 2015 and became its own nonprofit in 2017. He’s very proud of the school that had beautiful classroom spaces in Garden City and was thrilled to usher in eras of growth. The musical theatre program led to yet another new cross-over skill for Pete: most of his students didn’t have proper headshots to use when they created materials for upcoming shows, so with his strong base in photography, he thought, “I can learn how to shoot headshots.” He dove into YouTube to learn from Peter Hurley and now runs his own photography headshot business and even sometimes teaches in Hurley’s own teaching studio.
Somehow between teaching at university and his own music school and running his own photography school, he also became a sought after bass player in jazz bands across Long Island. He further squeezed in time to get married and start a family of his own.
Then…came the pandemic.
Though the pandemic closed the doors of the Music Academy and forced them to leave their building, the mission of the Music Academy was able to live on through the non-profit Music Academy Foundation, which Pete started in 2017. In the Fall of 2021, the Music Academy Foundation moved to a new, even better facility which houses all of their programs.
Back to LIHSA
Pete Coco and LIHSA’s School Principal – Dr. Chris Rogutsky – met when she needed headshots taken. It wasn’t long before she learned he was a LIHSA alum and about his multi-faceted talents and she knew he’d make a wonderful artist-in-residence. This spring, Coco is working with photography students and also American Songbook classes. We’re not sure he sleeps…but we do know we’re lucky to have him back at LIHSA!
Enjoy the beautiful photography of Pete Coco