Greek laouto player Vasilis Kostas came to the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI) with dual interests: bringing to the fore the soloist side of the laouto in Greek traditional music and in jazz improvisation, and working toward musical programs for abandoned children in Greece that will help bring social change.
What made you decide to attend Berklee?
Before I came to Berklee, I was studying at Philippos Nakas Conservatory in Thessaloniki, Greece, while I was pursuing my bachelor's degree in philosophy and pedagogy. Makis Stefanidis '93G, my private instructor in jazz guitar at the conservatory, had a huge influence on me and was the person who was key in my decision to come to Berklee. He is a Berklee alumnus, so we discussed the Berklee option in every lesson until I finally decided to apply. I came to Berklee as a jazz guitarist, but after the first year of my studies and a Berklee trip to Spain in order to record an album and give a concert, I decided to switch instruments and dedicate myself to the study of the Greek traditional lute, or laouto.
How did you find out about the BGJI, and why did you decide to apply?
The second year of my studies at Berklee, when I was playing only the laouto, I started playing music and creating projects with students from the BGJI and also taking private lessons with Lefteris Kordis, a great pianist who works for Danilo Pérez and is a faculty member at Berklee. We had a lot of conversations about the BGJI, and he encouraged me to apply for it as he believed that there was potential to develop my skills and create something really new based on the laouto. We went together to one of Danilo's workshops. After being there for three-and-a-half hours, I was convinced that the BGJI was the next step for me. When I heard Danilo talking about colors and energy, I was shocked as I never had this musical experience in my life. After his seminar I was 100 percent sure that this was the right path for me.
How has your personal voice as an artist and musician changed through your experience with the BGJI?
The BGJI is the ideal place for me right now. This program gives me the chance to experiment with jazz, discover new colors and sounds that we haven't heard before on the laouto, try to build musical bridges between Greek traditional music and jazz, and also push the limits of my instrument and challenge myself. Through all this valuable experience, you develop and make your own voice even stronger as every day you add elements and influences to your playing and to your process of composing. I feel I can express myself in a more holistic way as every day I get new ''tools,'' which help me a lot to express the different aspects of myself.
Traditional Greek music is the music I grew up with and the music I will always study. However, through jazz I discovered so many other places that I couldn't imagine before. All this process makes you want to be a better person, try to lower your ego (which is very important if you want to become a great musician), and mainly try to be a model for society by creating social projects that can help a lot of people, especially young students. Being a great musician means you are a great human being first and a model for the generations that are coming. The BGJI helps you a lot to grow in this direction and provides you great mentorship in order to create programs that will help our society and young students have an exposure to music.
How has the BGJI impacted your personal life?
The first thing I realized about the BGJI during orientation week is that the lower ego you have, the more you can develop yourself into a better and more mature musician and human being. This made me have different criteria in my daily life. Ego is the element of our personality that can affect our relationships with others the most. Music is the perfect way to lower our egos, make our values even stronger, and as a result inspire other people to do the same.
What do you want to do after Berklee?
Present my final project regarding the potential on the laouto and how to build musical bridges between traditions all over the U.S. and Europe. Spread the philosophy of the BGJI in Greece, where I am going to create a musical program for abandoned children, and hopefully BGJI students will come there to perform and work with the kids. Teach in institutions, conservatories, and privately using the values we learn at the BGJI.
Watch Kostas perform on the laouto: