Anat Cohen, one of today’s most gifted jazz musicians, will perform April 25 at the Dakota Jazz Club
By MORDECAI SPECKTOR
Bandleader and clarinetist Benny Goodman reigned over the radio airwaves and hotel ballrooms of America in the 1930s and ’40s. The “King of Swing,” as he was dubbed by Gene Krupa, was born May 30, 1909, in Chicago.
In honor of the centennial anniversary of Goodman’s birth, clarinetist Anat Cohen, a native of Tel Aviv, Israel, recorded an album,Â Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard. The scintillating new album had its origin in an invitation to Cohen from Lorraine Gordon, owner of the famed Greenwich Village jazz club.
“She approached me to do a week celebrating the clarinet,” Cohen recalled, during a recent telephone interview with the American Jewish World.
So, Cohen called up some ace musicians in New York — pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash — to join her for the gigs. And Cohen decided to record the live shows.
Local music lovers will have an opportunity to hear the Goodman repertoire live when Cohen and her stellar ensemble play two shows on Sunday, April 25 at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. (Washington and Nash played here last year, at Orchestra Hall, with the Blue Note 7, an all-star group celebrating the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records, the renowned jazz label.)
Cohen, who also plays soprano and tenor sax, will stick to clarinet for the upcoming appearance at the Dakota. Her group will put a contemporary spin on such venerable songs as “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “After You’ve Gone,” “Body and Soul,” etc.
“We didn’t try to imitate and to sound like [Goodman],” explains Cohen, regarding the performances that became tracks onÂ Clarinetwork. Rather, Cohen and company sought “just to be inspired by his sense of arrangements and musicality and musicianship, and just play some of his songs as we see fit.”
Cohen, who has been living in the United States since 1996, when she arrived at Berklee College of Music in Boston, is part of a contingent of Israeli musicians whose talents have enhanced the New York City jazz scene. Cohen lends further luster to a group that includes bassists Omer Avital and Avishai Cohen, pianists Omer Klein and Anat Fort, trombonist Avi Leibovitch, and guitarists Roni Ben-Hur and Gilad Hekselman.
And regarding the current wave of 20-something Israeli jazz musicians landing on these shores, Cohen admits that she can’t “keep track” of all of them, but says that they are “really, really good, dedicated, well-rounded musicians. It’s very impressive.”
Also, Anat Cohen’s trumpet-playing brother, Avishai (another Avishai Cohen), has kept busy in the States, playing with fellow Israelis and Americans, and backing singer-songwriter Keren Ann. He now plays with the top-flight SFJAZZ Collective.
In addition to leading her own ensembles, and recording five albums, beginning withÂ Place and Time in 2005, Anat Cohen also has recorded two albums with her younger brother Avishai and older brother Yuval, who plays soprano saxophone and lives in Israel. The 3 Cohens, as they call their band, had a weeklong stand at the Village Vanguard, on the week before Cohen recordedÂ Clarinetwork. The 3 Cohens are recording their third album, she reports.
Cohen’s journey to exploring diverse musical vistas, sharing bandstands with the cream of the jazz world and earning rave reviews began in an artistic milieu in Tel Aviv.
“I was always surrounded by music and musicians,” Cohen recalls, regarding her early years in Tel Aviv. She attended junior high and high school arts schools, and also studied in the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music.
“Of course, I have two brothers who are jazz musicians, so that was another school in itself,” she adds, “to go home and talk about music and share life with musicians. It’s a wonderful thing.”
In response to a question about music as an expression of spirituality — she wrote a song called “T’filah” (“prayer” in Hebrew) for the 3 Cohens albumÂ Braid; and herÂ Poetica album has a traditional liturgical tune, “Niguneem” — Cohen mentions that the late John Coltrane was a “great influence” on her music.
“If you are talking about spiritual experience, I can tell you that probably the deepest spiritual experiences I have ever had were while listening to John Coltrane’s music…. putting on [Coltrane’s 1964 album]Â Crescent, and just getting inside the music. It’s incredible, the depths of the music, the depths of the person. It’s interesting, you hear other people play, and sometimes you feel something and sometimes you don’t.”
She explains that a listener can appreciate music in different ways: “mechanical, technical, harmonic conception, but some of it just takes you to another level.”
Riding in a car somewhere in New York City, Cohen tells the AJW that the “music business” involves many mundane details — “traveling and booking and hiring… There are a lot of things about it that are not the music.”
However, Cohen lives for “those few moments when I am onstage… and everybody wants to connect and everybody wants to create something in the moment… Those are rare, beautiful moments, when you get to another level, another dimension: you are not playing music, you are inside music.”
Cohen’s beautiful compositions, vibrant tone and fluent improvisational ability have generated much attention on the jazz scene over recent years. Among an awesome number of talented musicians plying their art these days, Anat Cohen is creating a unique body of work. Her upcoming Dakota shows should not to be missed.
Anat Cohen will perform two shows, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday, April 25 at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis. For reservations, call 612-332-1010, then 2, or go to: dakotacooks.com.
(American Jewish World, 4.16.10)